What Is a Conflict of Interest in Criminal Law?
conflict of interest in criminal law

What Is a Conflict of Interest in Criminal Law?

Scartelli Olszewski P.C.
Scartelli Olszewski P.C.

Conflicts of interest exist in all types of law, even criminal law, where the stakes are high. When you’re facing a criminal charge, your livelihood, reputation, and freedom are on the line. You can’t afford to have a conflict of interest or to have a conflict of interest working against you. You deserve a fair trial, and the laws of the criminal justice system demand it.

If you’re unsure of what a conflict of interest is and how it can affect your criminal justice case, the criminal defense attorneys at Scartelli Olszewski, P.C. can explain. We can help you identify conflicts and protect you from them as part of your defense.

What is a Conflict of Interest?

A conflict of interest occurs when a person or entity has competing interests that may prevent them from acting impartially or appropriately. In the context of criminal law, this means that someone involved in the legal process may have personal or financial motivations that could bias their decisions. This can include the prosecutor, the jury, or the judge.

This wouldn’t include the financial incentive of an attorney who you’re paying to defend you, nor the prosecutor’s job to prove your guilt. This would include a prosecutor or judge who knows the defendant or victim personally, positively or negatively, independent of the events that led to the criminal charge.

When Do Conflicts of Interest Occur?

Conflicts of interest can arise at any stage of a criminal case. They may occur between:

  • The prosecutor and the defendant
  • The judge and the defendant
  • The defense attorney and the defendant
  • Multiple defendants in a case

These conflicts can arise due to personal relationships, financial ties aside from attorney-client relationships, or other factors that could influence the decision-making process.

How Can a Conflict Affect Your Case?

Conflicts of interest can have serious consequences for your case. If someone involved in the legal process has a personal or financial stake in the outcome, they may not act in your best interest. This could result in biased decisions, compromised evidence, or even wrongful convictions.

Real-life Examples

Conflicts of interest in criminal law may be more common than you might think. For example, consider a situation where a defense attorney has previously represented a key witness for the prosecution. This creates a conflict of interest because the attorney could potentially use privileged information from the past relationship to undermine the witness’s credibility. This would be unethical and could lead to disbarment if proven, so rather than force an attorney into such a position, the relationship would be reported to the judge. This can lead to the witness being dismissed or their testimony being under greater scrutiny by the jury, depending on the nature of their testimony.

Another instance could involve a prosecutor who has a close personal relationship with the victim in a criminal case. This could be something as simple as friendship before the criminal charge against the defendant. Their personal feelings may cloud their judgment and prevent them from prosecuting the case objectively. This could result in an unfair trial for the defendant. Discovering and reporting this conflict of interest can lead to a change of prosecutor.

Can Someone Be Charged For Having a Conflict of Interest in a Criminal Law Case?

If it can be proven that the person or entity knowingly acted with a conflict of interest and this harmed the case, they could face legal consequences.

The Consequences of Conflicts of Interest on the Legal System

Conflicts of interest in the legal system can lead to detrimental outcomes that undermine the integrity of the judicial process. They can distort the course of justice by skewing decision-making and can lead to unfair trials and unjust verdicts.

When conflicts of interest are uncovered, they can fuel public perception of corruption, bias, and institutional unfairness, which can deeply damage the credibility of the judicial system no matter who the conflict involved. Moreover, conflicts of interest could result in the disqualification of judges or attorneys, which can delay proceedings and add unnecessary costs for defendants and taxpayers alike.

How Can Scartelli Olszewski, P.C. Help?

As a defendant, it’s crucial to have a criminal defense attorney who is free from any conflicts and who can spot conflicts working against you. At Scartelli Olszewski, P.C., our team of experienced criminal defense attorneys is committed to providing unbiased and diligent representation for each of our clients.

We understand the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest and ensure that we and those who can affect your case have no personal or financial ties to any parties involved in your case. Our sole focus is on protecting your rights and fighting for the best possible outcome for you. Contact us today for help.