Professional Guidelines

An agency of the Supreme Court of Virginia

The Virginia State Bar

Professional Guidelines

Rule 3.3

Candor Toward The Tribunal

  • (a) A lawyer shall not knowingly:
    • (1) make a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal;
    • (2) fail to disclose a fact to a tribunal when disclosure is necessary to avoid assisting a criminal or fraudulent act by the client;
    • (3) fail to disclose to the tribunal controlling legal authority in the subject jurisdiction known to the lawyer to be adverse to the position of the client and not disclosed by opposing counsel; or
    • (4) offer evidence that the lawyer knows to be false. If a lawyer has offered material evidence and comes to know of its falsity, the lawyer shall take reasonable remedial measures.
  • (b) A lawyer may refuse to offer evidence that the lawyer reasonably believes is false.
  • (c) In an ex parte proceeding, a lawyer shall inform the tribunal of all material facts known to the lawyer which will enable the tribunal to make an informed decision, whether or not the facts are adverse.
  • (d) A lawyer who receives information clearly establishing that a person other than a client has perpetrated a fraud upon the tribunal in a proceeding in which the lawyer is representing a client shall promptly reveal the fraud to the tribunal.
  • (e) The duties stated in paragraphs (a) and (d) continue until the conclusion of the proceeding, and apply even if compliance requires disclosure of information protected by Rule 1.6.

Comment

[1] The advocate's task is to present the client's case with persuasive force. Performance of that duty while maintaining confidences of the client is qualified by the advocate's duty of candor to the tribunal. However, an advocate does not vouch for the evidence submitted in a cause; the tribunal is responsible for assessing its probative value.

[2] ABA Model Rule Comment not adopted.

Representations by a Lawyer

[3] An advocate is responsible for pleadings and other documents prepared for litigation, but is usually not required to have personal knowledge of matters asserted therein, for litigation documents ordinarily present assertions by the client, or by someone on the client's behalf, and not assertions by the lawyer. Compare Rule 3.1. However, Section 8.01-271.1 of the Code of Virginia states that a lawyer's signature on a pleading constitutes a certification that the lawyer believes, after reasonable inquiry, that there is a factual and legal basis for the pleading. Additionally, an assertion purporting to be on the lawyer's own knowledge, as in an affidavit by the lawyer or in a statement in open court, may properly be made only when the lawyer knows the assertion is true or believes it to be true on the basis of a reasonably diligent inquiry. There are circumstances where failure to make a disclosure is the equivalent of an affirmative misrepresentation. The obligation prescribed in Rule 1.2(c) not to counsel a client to commit or assist the client in committing a fraud applies in litigation. Regarding compliance with Rule 1.2(c), see the Comment to that Rule. See also the Comment to Rule 8.4(b).

Misleading Legal Argument

[4] Legal argument based on a knowingly false representation of law constitutes dishonesty toward the tribunal. Furthermore, the complexity of law often makes it difficult for a tribunal to be fully informed unless pertinent law is presented by the lawyers in the cause. A tribunal that is fully informed on the applicable law is better able to make a fair and accurate determination of the matter before it. The underlying concept is that legal argument is a discussion seeking to determine the legal premises properly applicable to the case. A lawyer is not required to make a disinterested exposition of the law, but must recognize the existence of pertinent legal authorities. Furthermore, as stated in paragraph (a)(3), an advocate has a duty to disclose controlling adverse authority in the subject jurisdiction which has not been disclosed by the opposing party.

False Evidence

[5] When evidence that a lawyer knows to be false is provided by a person who is not the client, the lawyer must refuse to offer it regardless of the client's wishes.

[6] When false evidence is offered by the client, however, a conflict may arise between the lawyer's duty to keep the client's revelations confidential and the duty of candor to the court. If a lawyer knows that the client intends to testify falsely or wants the lawyer to introduce evidence that is false, the lawyer should seek to persuade the client that the evidence should not be offered or, if it has been offered, that its false character should immediately be disclosed. If the persuasion is ineffective, the lawyer must take reasonable remedial measures.

[7] ABA Model Rule Comment not adopted.

[8]  The prohibition against offering false evidence only applies if the lawyer knows the evidence is false. A lawyer’s reasonable belief or suspicion that evidence is false does not preclude its presentation to the trier of fact. A lawyer should resolve doubts about the veracity of testimony or other evidence in favor of the client, but the lawyer cannot ignore an obvious falsehood.

[9]  Although paragraph (a)(4) only prohibits a lawyer from offering evidence the lawyer knows to be false, it permits the lawyer to refuse to offer testimony or other proof that the lawyer reasonably believes is false. Offering such proof may reflect adversely on the lawyer’s ability to discriminate in the quality of evidence and thus impair the lawyer’s effectiveness as an advocate. Because of the special protections historically provided criminal defendants, however, this Rule does not permit a lawyer to refuse to offer the testimony of such a client where the lawyer reasonably believes but does not know that the testimony will be false. Unless the lawyer knows the testimony will be false, the lawyer must honor the client’s decision to testify.

Remedial Measures

[10] Having offered material evidence in the belief that it was true, a lawyer may subsequently come to know that the evidence is false. Or, a lawyer may be surprised when the lawyer’s client, or another witness, offers testimony during that proceeding that the lawyer knows to be false. In such situation or if the lawyer knows of the falsity of testimony elicited from the client during a deposition, the lawyer must take reasonable remedial measures. In such situations, the advocate’s proper course is to remonstrate with the client confidentially, advise the client of the lawyer’s duty of candor to the tribunal and seek the client’s cooperation with respect to the withdrawal or correction of the false statements or evidence. If that fails, the advocate must take further remedial action. If withdrawal from the representation is not permitted or will not undo the effect of the false evidence, the advocate must make such disclosure to the tribunal as is reasonably necessary to remedy the situation, even if doing so requires the lawyer to reveal information that otherwise would be protected by Rule 1.6. It is for the tribunal then to determine what should be done.

[11] Except in the defense of a criminal accused, the rule generally recognized is that, if necessary to rectify the situation, an advocate must disclose the existence of the client's deception to the court or to the other party. Such a disclosure can result in grave consequences to the client, including not only a sense of betrayal but also loss of the case and perhaps a prosecution for perjury. But the alternative is that the lawyer cooperates in deceiving the court, thereby subverting the truth-finding process which the adversary system is designed to implement. See Rule 1.2(c). Furthermore, unless it is clearly understood that the lawyer will act upon the duty to disclose the existence of false evidence, the client can simply reject the lawyer's advice to reveal the false evidence and insist that the lawyer keep silent. Thus the client could in effect coerce the lawyer into being a party to fraud on the court.

Perjury by a Criminal Defendant

[12] Whether an advocate for a criminally accused has the same duty of disclosure has been intensely debated. While it is agreed that the lawyer should seek to persuade the client to refrain from perjurious testimony, there has been dispute concerning the lawyer's duty when that persuasion fails. If the confrontation with the client occurs before trial, the lawyer ordinarily can withdraw. Withdrawal before trial may not be possible, however, either because trial is imminent, or because the confrontation with the client does not take place until the trial itself, or because no other counsel is available.

[13] The most difficult situation, therefore, arises in a criminal case where the accused insists on testifying when the lawyer knows that the testimony is perjurious. The lawyer's effort to rectify the situation can increase the likelihood of the client's being convicted as well as opening the possibility of a prosecution for perjury. On the other hand, if the lawyer does not exercise control over the proof, the lawyer participates, although in a merely passive way, in deception of the court.

[13a] Three resolutions of this dilemma have been proposed. One is to permit the accused to testify by a narrative without guidance through the lawyer's questioning. This compromises both contending principles; it exempts the lawyer from the duty to disclose false evidence but subjects the client to an implicit disclosure of information imparted to counsel. Another suggested resolution, of relatively recent origin, is that the advocate be entirely excused from the duty to reveal perjury if the perjury is that of the client. This is a coherent solution but makes the advocate a knowing instrument of perjury.

[13b] The ultimate resolution of the dilemma, however, is that the lawyer must reveal the client's perjury if necessary to rectify the situation. A criminal accused has a right to the assistance of an advocate, a right to testify and a right of confidential communication with counsel. However, an accused should not have a right to assistance of counsel in committing perjury. Furthermore, an advocate has an obligation, not only in professional ethics but under the law as well, to avoid implication in the commission of perjury or other falsification of evidence. See Rule 1.2(c).

Ex Parte Proceedings

[14] Ordinarily, an advocate has the limited responsibility of presenting one side of the matters that a tribunal should consider in reaching a decision; the conflicting position is expected to be presented by the opposing party. However, in an ex parte proceeding, such as an application for a temporary restraining order, there is no balance of presentation by opposing advocates. The object of an ex parte proceeding is nevertheless to yield a substantially just result. The judge has an affirmative responsibility to accord the absent party just consideration. The lawyer for the represented party has the correlative duty to make disclosures of material facts known to the lawyer and that the lawyer reasonably believes are necessary to an informed decision. For purposes of this Rule, ex parte proceedings do not include grand jury proceedings or proceedings which are non-adversarial, including various administrative proceedings in which a party chooses not to appear. However, a particular tribunal (including an administrative tribunal) may have an explicit rule or other controlling precedent which requires disclosure even in a non-adversarial proceeding. If so, the lawyer must comply with a disclosure demand by the tribunal or challenge the action by available legal means. The failure to disclose information as part of a legal challenge to a demand for disclosure will not constitute a violation of this Rule.

Duration of Obligation

[15]  The obligation to rectify false evidence or false statements of law and fact should have a practical time limit. The conclusion of the proceeding is a reasonably definite point for the termination of the obligation. A proceeding has concluded within the meaning of this Rule when a final judgment in the proceeding has been affirmed on appeal or the time for review has passed.

Virginia Code Comparison

Paragraph (a)(1) is substantially similar to DR 7-102(A)(5), which provided that "[ i ] n his representation of a client, a lawyer shall not knowingly make a false statement of law or fact."

With regard to paragraph (a)(2), DR 7-102(A)(3) provided that "[ i ] n his representation of a client, a lawyer shall not conceal or knowingly fail to disclose that which he is required by law to reveal."

Paragraph (a)(3) has no direct counterpart in the Virginia Code. EC 7-20 stated: "Where a lawyer knows of legal authority in the controlling jurisdiction directly adverse to the position of his client, he should inform the tribunal of its existence unless his adversary has done so; but, having made such disclosure, he may challenge its soundness in whole or in part."

With regard to paragraph (a)(4), the first sentence of this paragraph is similar to DR 7-102(A)(4), which provided that a lawyer shall not "knowingly use perjured testimony or false evidence." DR 4-101(D)(2), adopted here as Rule 1.6(c)(2), made it clear that the "remedial measures" referred to in the second sentence of paragraph (a)(4) could include disclosure of the fraud to the tribunal.

Paragraph (b) confers discretion on the lawyer to refuse to offer evidence that the lawyer "reasonably believes" is false. This gives the lawyer more latitude than DR 7102(A)(4), which prohibited the lawyer from offering evidence the lawyer "knows" is false.

There was no counterpart in the Virginia Code to paragraph (c).

Paragraph (d) is identical to DR 7-102(B).

Committee Commentary

The Committee generally adopted the ABA Model Rule, but it deleted the word "material" from paragraph (a)(1) to make it identical to DR 7-102(A)(5) and from paragraph (a)(2) because it appeared to be redundant. Additionally, the word "directly," preceding "adverse" was deleted from paragraph (a)(3).

With respect to paragraph (a)(3), the Committee believed it advisable to adopt a provision requiring the disclosure of controlling adverse legal authority. While there was no corresponding provision within the Disciplinary Rules of the Virginia Code, there is a corresponding provision within the ABA Model Code, DR 7-106(B)(1). However, the Committee deleted the word "directly" from the paragraph in the belief that the limiting effect of that term could seriously dilute the paragraph's meaning.

The Committee determined to retain the obligation to report a non-client's fraud on the tribunal, and therefore repeated the provisions of DR 7-102(B) in paragraph (d).

 

The amendments effective December 1, 2016, deleted “…, subject to Rule 1.6” at the end of paragraph (a)(2); rewrote the second half of paragraph (d) to read “…upon the tribunal in a proceeding in which the lawyer is representing a client shall promptly reveal the fraud to the tribunal.”; added paragraph (e); deleted the phrase from Comment [6] “Upon ascertaining that material evidence is false” and replaced it with “If a lawyer knows that the client intends to testify falsely or wants the lawyer to introduce evidence that is false”; deleted Comments “[7 – 9]  ABA Model Rule Comments not adopted.”; added Comments [7], [8], and [9]; removed the language “ABA Model Rule Comments not adopted” from Comment [10] and added the remainder of the comment; changed “cooperate” to “cooperates” in Comment [11]; and added “Duration of Obligation” before adding new Comment [15].

Updated: November 29, 2016