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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Florida Man Kills Neighbor, Brings Body to Lawyer's Office

From the incomparable Florida Man Twitter account, I learned of this strange story of a man who claims he killed his neighbor in self-defense, and who brought the body with him to his attorney's office. From the News Press article:

A Lee County man who drove a dead neighbor to his attorney's office will not be arrested, his attorney, Robert Harris, said late Wednesday night. 
John Marshall walked into Harris' Fort Myers law firm Wednesday claiming he had killed a man in self-defense in Bokeelia and brought the body with him in the bed of his pickup.
Robert Harris, the attorney for John Marshall (no, not the renowned Supreme Court Justice) had been counseling Marshall on the conflict between the neighbors. But he was certainly surprised at this turn of events:

Harris said he's never handled a case involving a client bringing a body with him. 
"They don't teach you about this in law school. That's for sure," he said. "I believe we've handled ourselves correctly, but I'm a little in shock myself. This is not something that happens every day."

While law schools may shy away from addressing this scenario, it certainly isn't off limits for law blogs. So what is a criminal attorney to do when a client brings a body (or other incriminating evidence) to the attorney's office?

Florida's Rules of Professional Responsibility state that while lawyers do indeed have a duty of confidentiality toward their clients, lawyers cannot obstruct, destroy, or conceal evidence sought by another party, including the government. Rule 4-3.4(a) states that a lawyer must not:

unlawfully obstruct another party's access to evidence or otherwise unlawfully alter, destroy, or conceal a document or other material that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is relevant to a pending or a reasonably foreseeable proceeding; nor counsel or assist another person to do any such act;
The commentary accompanying the rule notes that parties entitled to the unobstructed evidence include the government. So if a client comes to an attorney with a dead body, the attorney certainly cannot hide or destroy the body, nor can the attorney counsel the client to do so.

Because news outlets are reporting on John Marshall bringing his neighbor's body to his lawyer, it appears that Harris complied with the applicable rules of professional responsibility. Students and professors of legal ethics should take this story to heart, and know that even the most outlandish of hypothetical scenarios occasionally make their way into the real world (or at least Florida).

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