The Law School Authority

People v. Johnson Case Brief

Summary of People v. Johnson, 62 Cal.App.4th 608 (1998)

Relevant Facts: After the Prosecution completed its case in chief, Df’s atty requested an in camera hearing where he disclosed an “ethical conflict” regarding the Df’s intended testimony. The atty informed the court that he refused to call the Df despite the Df’s confirmation to the ct of his desire to testify.  He was not allowed to testify.

Legal Issue(s): Whether denying the Df the right to testify in his own behalf constituted reversible error?

Court’s Holding: The ct erred, but it was harmless error b/c of the overwhelming evidence against the Df.

Procedure: Df convicted of numerous sexual offenses, kidnaping and robberies.  Affirmed.

Law or Rule(s): Rock v. Arkansas, 483 U.S. 44(1987)- a criminal Df has a constitutional right to testify on his own behalf, that right is essential to due process.

Court Rationale: No court has endorsed the view that full cooperation w/ the presentment of a Df’s testimony where the Df intends to commit perjury, b/c it conflicts with legal ethics rules prohibiting an attorney from knowingly participating in presenting perjured testimony.  Ethics rules also require an attorney to disclose a client’s intention to commit a crime.  As established in Nix v. Whiteside, 475 U.S. 157, 169 (1986), an attorney should first attempt to persuade the client to testify truthfully, and if the atty acted so the Df cannot claim ineffective counsel.  When the client insists on testifying falsely despite the attorney’s best efforts against such, MR 1.16(a)(1), and MR 3.3 dictate that the best course of action is for the atty to permit the Df to testify in a narrative manner, and during closing arguments, the atty does not rely on any of the Df’s false testimony.  This approach allows the Df to tell his story to the jury, in his own words and preserves the atty’s ethical responsibilities.

Plaintiff’s Argument: The ct properly excluded the Df’s testimony because the Df has no constitutional right to commit perjury.

Defendant’s Argument: The tr. Ct. erred in denying the Defendant his constitutional right to testify, but find the error harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

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