The New York Court of Appeals this week highlighted the special care with which courts should approach client waivers of actual conflicts of interest in criminal cases. The client in this case, People v. Solomon, was charged with child sex abuse. Defense counsel simultaneously represented a police officer who testified at Solomon's trial that he confessed to the crime. The Court found that Solomon's conflict waiver did not suffice because the trial court failed to ensure that Solomon understood the nature of the conflict. The prosecution, however, argued lack of prejudice, because this conflict did not adversely affect the performance of Solomon's lawyer, who cross-examined the officer effectively. See Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446 U.S. 335, 350 (1980) (a defendant must "establish that an actual conflict of interest adversely affected his lawyer's performance"). The Court of Appeals rejected the prosecution's argument, concluding:
[W]e have never held, and decline now to hold, that
the simultaneous representation of clients whose interests
actually conflict can be overlooked so long as it seems that the
lawyer did a good job. Our cases, and the United States Supreme
Court's, make clear that, where such an actual conflict exists
and is not waived, the defendant has been deprived of the
effective assistance of counsel.