Professor Bruce Green wrote an op-ed for Newsweek regarding the legal ethics of an attorney who might be facing a conflict of interest while representing a client.
Two days before trial, the attorney representing Nicholas Acklin, a young man facing the death penalty in Alabama, met with his client’s mother. From her, he learned of critical evidence that, if presented, might save his client’s life: as a child, Mr. Acklin had suffered severe physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his father.
The abuse of the young Mr. Acklin included beatings and threats at gunpoint. When angered, Mr. Acklin’s father held Mr. Acklin down, pointed a gun at him, and threatened to kill him. Mr. Acklin’s father also abused and terrorized Mr. Acklin’s mother and siblings. Mr. Acklin’s attorney realized that the abuse evidence was important. It was exactly the type of evidence that the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized can be critical in persuading a jury to show leniency and vote for life instead of death.
But Mr. Acklin’s attorney also knew that presenting the evidence would hurt his chances of being paid for his services because Mr. Acklin’s father—the perpetrator of the abuse—was paying his legal fees.