People v Yadnez: To Which Conflicts Does Cuyler v. Sullivan Extend?

The Colorado Supreme Court recently granted cert in the case of Nathan Yadnez (2015 WL 929996), and the decision likely will provide additional guidance on how far the rule from Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446 U. S. 335 (1980), will extend to conflicts of interest beyond those rising from simultaneous representation of co-defendants or co-participants.

The relevant facts are straightforward.  Defendant Yadnez murdered his mother at the age of 16.  Yadnez’s father, also husband of Yadnez’s mother, hired and paid a lawyer to represent his son.  The father also was a witness for the prosecution.  There were allegations of child abuse that were neither investigated nor raised by the defense.  There was no conflicts waiver.

The question is whether Yadnez’s lawyer was operating under an actual conflict of interest that adversely affected the representation, constituting ineffective assistance of counsel. The Court of Appeals found that there was a conflict, but arising solely from the fact that the lawyer was being paid by father, not sufficient to meet the ineffective assistance of counsel standard.  Defendant Yadnez argues that under Sullivan, the conflict is not merely a Rule 1.8 conflict based on third party payment of fees.  Instead, it is a nonconsentable conflict under Rule 1.7, because the father was a victim of the crime and a necessary witness for the prosecution, creating a risk of a material limitation on the representation, not merely a conflict arising from the payment of legal fees by the father.

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