This past Tuesday shortly after the lunch recess a dangerousness hearing was being conducted at the Lawrence District Court. The courtroom doors opened abruptly and a police officer sitting in the courtroom observed Stephanie Urena trying to hold Keila Rodriguez to prevent her from testifying. Urena, a Chelsea, Massachusetts resident was grabbing the witness and pulling her back. The Lawrence Eagle Tribune reports that Rodriguez was attempting to testify on behalf of her boyfriend. Urena and Rodriguez were separated by police officers. Officers then attempted to interview Urena and were interrupted by a lawyer advising Urena not to talk to the police. The report states that the lawyer represents Rodriguez’s ex-boyfriend, the defendant in the dangerousness hearing. Urena denied that the man was her lawyer and denied knowing the lawyer. Urena has been charged with Intimidation of a Witness and Assault and Battery.
This article brings up an interesting issue that Massachusetts Criminal Defense Lawyers frequently face, that being conflicts of interest. So what exactly is a conflict of interest in the legal sense? Well, for one thing, representing more than on defendant in a criminal matter can in some instances create this problem. Both Massachusetts and United States Supreme Court cases have held that representing codefendants at the same trial can at times result in a detriment to one of the parties that constitutes a violation of the Sixth Amendment and warrants reversal of a conviction. These cases go on to say that both the Massachusetts and United States Constitutions mandate that an attorney give his undivided loyalty to his client. If an actual conflict of interest is shown there might be no need to show a loss of a substantial defense and a conviction might be reversed.
Conflicts of interest might implicate problems for the lawyer as well as the client. The Massachusetts Rules of Professional Responsibility make clear that an attorney’s loyalty to his client is essential to the lawyer’s relationship to a client. These rules further state that ordinarily a lawyer in a criminal case should decline to act for more than one codefendant. Common representation is permissible where interests are similar and the risks of adverse impact to one client are minimal. Representing codefendants is a somewhat of a slippery undertaking. Conflicting defenses often arise as defense preparation and investigative efforts develop. The better practice is not to represent codefendants and to suggest to one of the accused that he or she retain their own lawyer.
So where does that leave this case? From a purely legal standpoint it is difficult to find the existence of an actual conflict between the defendant and Urena. They are not actually codefendants. Rather, Urena is a witness on the defendant’s dangerousness matter and now she is a defendant on another criminal matter linked to the dangerousness matter. However, the fact that she denied that this lawyer represented her (if this is in fact what she said) might be problematic and could be viewed as an intention to obstruct the police officers’ investigation. Hopefully this person’s zealousness will not be viewed this as obstructive.
The Law Offices of Stephen Neyman has been defending the accused for over twenty years. Our telephones are answered twenty four hours per day, seven days per week. Call 617-263-6800 now. Do not hesitate to call with a question about your criminal case. You can email us as well.