Let's say a client confesses one thing to their lawyer, but at trial makes a radically different claim when asked while under oath. The difference is substantial and likely to affect the result of the trial and the lawyer reasonable believes the defendant has committed perjury.

He can't come out and accuse his client of lying based off of confidential information covered by attorney client privilege. However, he also can't support perjury, putting him in an awkward position.

Does the lawyer just move on and say nothing? Can they continue their planned defense as it was because the perjury doesn't change the argument, even if it could affect the odds of the client being found guilty? Then again what if the perjury does change the argument the defense was planning to make and he has to either alter his plan for defense or likely reveal the perjury? If the lawyer adjusts his defense in deference to the lie is he not supporting perjury?

Does the lawyer simply say he can't continue to defend his client and ask for a mistrial without saying why?

  • 1
    How is the lawyer supposed to know that the client's "confession" was genuine? Maybe the client actually lied to the lawyer, but is saying the truth under oath?
    – Greendrake
    Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 17:39
  • @Greendrake theoretically possible, but it seems far more plausible that a client would lie when they are facing jail time to avoid it then lie to their lawyer when telling the truth can only help their defense. Regardless I intentionally added the clause that the lawyer believes the defendant is commiting perjury to remove such a question. Could the client be telling the truth, sure anything is possible. But in this hypothetical the lawyers personal belief is that perjury is happening and their choices must be driven by that belief.
    – dsollen
    Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 18:03

1 Answer 1


If somehow the lawyer knows that evidence provided by their client to the court is false, the lawyer has an obligation to direct the client to cease the perjury and to persuade the client to disclose to the court that the evidence was false. If the client does not stop, the lawyer must withdraw.

There are tactful ways to express the reason for withdrawal to the court without prejudicing the client.

Ethics opinions and guidance are available online from various bar associations explaining how to handle this situation, as well as academic scholarship on the topic:

Every bar association should be able to provide advice to a lawyer faced with this situation that is tailored to the specific circumstances and the local rules.

  • 2
    Can you quote some specific rules for lawyers that say what you do?
    – Greendrake
    Commented Feb 22, 2023 at 17:59

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