A “Perry Mason” Moment

By Sanford Millar of MillarLaw A Professional Corporation On Friday, January 19, 2018

Perry Mason was a television dram about a criminal defense lawyer who somehow managed to get his clients acquitted through clever cross examination of the real criminal. His techniques often managed to get the witness to confess “It was me, I did it” Just recently I had a Perry Mason moment but it occurred after the client was interviewed by federal agents.

The interview was conducted was not under penalty of perjury and after the interview the client advised me that some of the testimony was false, and not by mistake. This circumstance creates a real problem for the attorney client relationship and the client. As recent headlines will confirm, lying to a federal agent is a felony under 18 U.S.C. §1001. The client must, therefore, correct his/her testimony or allow the lawyer to do so or the lawyer can become part of a conspiracy and face aiding and abetting charges.

The fact that clients are not forthright in some cases is not new to most of us who have been practicing for a while.. Often I have heard “I never thought that they would find this out”. However, on those occasions when a false statement is discovered the lawyer must either substitute out of the case or have the client correct their testimony.

The obligation of any client is to provide their lawyer with all the facts, good and bad so an informed case evaluation can be made and strategy established. The false testimony in this case changes the entire strategy and amplifies the costs of defense many fold.

The fact that I admonished the client to be truthful and the client chose to mislead me and the federal agents is a desperate act and one that can lead to a very bad outcome if the government decides to prosecute the false statement crime.