News and Information
March 19, 2012

Pro Bono Conference to Address Ethics and Issues Involving Plea Agreements

The Virginia State Bar special Committee on Access to Legal Services will present a free continuing legal education panel discussion titled “The Plea: Ethics and Expediency at a Crossroads” on March 26, 2012.

The discussion will be take place during the conference in Petersburg. Panel members are Michael N. Herring, Commonwealth’s Attorney for Richmond; Alex N. Levay Jr., capital case defense counsel; and James McCauley, VSB Ethics Counsel. Margaret A. Nelson, a member of the VSB Council and a capital case appointed defense counsel, will moderate.

 The presentation, at New Millennium Studios will include segments from an award-winning film, American Violet, and a related PBS documentary, Frontline.

The panel will discuss a hypothetical case in which a woman is innocent but is charged with possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute after police raid the housing development in which she lives while she is not at home. She is assigned a young, inexperienced lawyer from the court-appointed list.

The panel will discuss selected issues in criminal law practice including:

  1. What constitutes competent representation in criminal defense matters?  What tasks are required or necessary to provide competent representation to a person accused of a crime?
  2. What obligations, if any, does a prosecutor owe if he or she believes the accused is not being represented competently?  See Va. Rule 8.3(a).
  3. When does a prosecutor have an ethical duty to disclose exculpatory evidence?
  4. May a prosecutor negotiate a plea agreement without disclosing, or have the defendant waive her right to disclosure of exculpatory evidence?
  5. The decision to plead guilty is a decision to be made by the client, after consultation with her lawyer.  What must the lawyer do to ensure that the client makes an informed decision to accept a plea offer?  Does the lawyer’s ethical duty of competency require that the lawyer know and have the client understand all material collateral consequences to pleading guilty to a crime, especially a felony?
  6. Does a prosecutor have any ethical duties when he learns that a defendant he prosecuted and convicted is innocent?


More details about the training and presentation of the Lewis Powell and Oliver Hill pro bono awards are available at


Updated: Mar 20, 2012