LEGAL ETHICS OPINION 1768
PROSECUTOR THREATENING TRIAL BY JURY TO DISSUADE A DEFENDANT FROM APPEALING A CRIMMINAL CONVICTION TO THE CIRCUIT COURT
You have presented a hypothetical involving comments made by a prosecutor in open court. The represented defendant just after sentencing had asked the court about his right of appeal. The Commonwealth Attorney then informed the court that if the defendant appeals, he will be tried by a jury and requests that the clerk of court note that on the warrant. In this jurisdiction, it is commonly known that a jury will usually impose a longer sentence than the judge for this offense. The defendant subsequently chose not to exercise his right of appeal.
Under the facts you have presented, you have asked the committee to opine as to whether the prosecutor has violated any provision of the Rules of Professional Conduct by making this statement in the presence of the defendant.
The Rule that specifically addresses conduct of a prosecuting attorney is Rule 3.8. That provision places special restrictions on the activities of a prosecutor; however, none of those apply here. Those provisions deal with probable cause, unrepresented defendants, communication with witnesses, disclosure of exculpatory evidence, and extrajudicial statements. The statements made by this prosecutor in court regarding a jury trial are not prohibited by any of the provisions in Rule 3.8.
As the specific rule regarding prosecutors does not preclude the statements made in your hypothetical, the permissibility of those statements is governed by the Rules' general provisions regarding restrictions on an attorney's professional communications.
The committee opines that nothing in the provisions of broad application governing attorney communications, nor the specific provisions directed at prosecutors prohibit the remarks of this Commonwealth's Attorney in the presence of this represented defendant.
This opinion is advisory only, based only on the facts you presented and not binding on any court or tribunal.
November 26, 2002