The Clinic has been working hard to bring about change regarding the practice of Release-Dismissals. (A summary can be found on the “Our Projects” page under “Release-Dismissals.”)
The Clinic recently received confirmation that our Inquiry was received by the North Carolina State Bar’s Ethics Committee and will be discussed during its April 26th meeting. Currently, the Clinic is seeking local, as well as country-wide support for this very ripe ethical issue so we have attached the North Carolina Inquiry for your consideration. What started as a North Carolina focused project grew into a country-wide project in which Windy Majer and Jordan Dupuis, under the supervision of Professor Jason Huber, are continuing to pose the question we asked of North Carolina, the District of Columbia, West Virginia, and most recently Florida, to state bar’s that have yet to address the issue. That question is whether the State Bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct permit a prosecutor to enter into an agreement with a criminal defendant to dismiss criminal charges in exchange for the defendant’s release of any civil claims arising out of the defendant’s arrest, prosecution, and/or conviction.
The Clinic’s position is that the practice of using release-dismissal agreements should be prohibited in their entirety based on the inherent conflict of interest they create between a prosecutor’s duty to enforce the law and the goal of insulating third parties from civil liability. As several states have determined, this conflict undermines the integrity of the criminal justice system by placing liability concerns over that of a prosecutor’s special responsibility as a minister of justice. By prohibiting this practice, the State Bar will assist prosecutors in fulfilling their constitutional mandate to protect criminal defendants from undue coercion, and in turn advance the truth-seeking function of the criminal justice system.
The overwhelming majority of state bars only allow an attorney barred in that state to request a formal ethics opinions. As a result, the Clinic is reaching out to attorneys that support the Clinic’s position and are barred in states that have yet to address this important ethical issue, and asking them to submit our Inquiry on the Clinic’s behalf. If you are an attorney interested in supporting the Clinic in getting this issue heard in a state where you are barred, please contact Jason Huber at email@example.com or Windy Majer at firstname.lastname@example.org.