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When can my attorney be found to have a conflict of interest?

Cody Dials is charged with first-degree murder in the death of David Rhea, 39, a commercial fisherman who lived in Pinellas Park. Recently, a gun that may have been used in the killing was discovered. The finding of this gun is bittersweet: it gave the prosecution a possible murder weapon, but it gave Cody Dials' attorney a possible conflict of interest.

Dials was one of three men on trial for the murder of Rhea, who was shot and killed on May 7, 2012. Dials would have been the first to face trial. The weapon that could have shot Rhea was discovered last week, in the bottom of a canal, after detectives followed hand-written instructions and a map. Authorities believe that the recently discovered letter and hand-drawn map were prepared by Dials.

After authorities found the possible new evidence, decisions had to be made. Specifically, the court decided that a continuance needed to be granted after the new evidence was found. But the continuance was not granted for reasons you would think - the continuance was granted because of a conflict of interest that arose as a result of the weapon.

The discovery created a conflict of interest for Dials' defense attorneys, because a lawyer from their agency is also representing someone who may need to testify about the discovery of the map inside the Pinellas County Jail. The Model Rules of Professional Conduct define what a conflict of interest is amongst current clients. Rule 1.7 discusses that a lawyer "shall not represent a client if the represent involves a concurrent conflict of interest. A concurrent conflict of interest exists if the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client." In Dials' case, the testifying witness would have been directly adverse to Dials' position.

For that reason, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Cynthia Newton granted a request to give Dials a new attorney, who will need more time to study the case. Although the gun has been examined, it has not yet been determined to be the one used in the crime. Nevertheless, the judge made the right call by giving Dials a new attorney.

Source: Tampa Bay Times, Pinellas trial delayed after possible murder weapon surfaces, Curtis Krueger, 3/31/14

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