Moral and legal ethics differ greatly. People should not mix up those notions.
While moral ethics states that one action is inadmissible, legal ethics assures that there is no another way for dealing with the case. Considering an example of Alton Logan who had to spend 26 years in jail for the crime he did not commit, the problem of legal ethics is going to be considered in the light of the cultural relativism theory. No one denies the hazards of cultural relativism, but there are no ways out in some cases.
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Having considered the case and the supporting information, it should be stated that two attorneys who remained silent about the innocence of Alton Logan were right from the point of view of the legal ethics; this opinion may be supported with the cultural relativism theory, no matter how failing and unmoral it seems from other points of view. The legal ethics is a notion which stands for a set of rules of conduct which exist in the attorneys’ world. One of the main rules which attorneys should follow is keeping a client’s secret. In case if this rule had not been established, an attorney would not be able to serve a client effectively. If a client is not assured that his/her secret is going to be kept, he/she is unable to trust an attorney. When attorneys deal with the information received from a client, attorneys are to be aware of “their ethical obligations to maintain client confidences and the court-imposed protections provided by what is known as the attorney-client privilege” (Currier and Eimermann 2009, 277). Considering this problem from the point of view of a concrete case, one may doubt this set of rules and consider it as unmoral.
The case is as follows, a person, Alton Logan, was convicted for a murder and condemned to imprisonment for life. 26 years two attorneys, Dale Coventry and Jamie Kunz, knew that he was not guilty but they could not say a word. The main reason why they remained silent is that their client, Andrew Wilson, confessed that it was he who committed a murder. Two attorneys could do nothing. Protecting their client they were unable to say the truth (Lawyers Keep 26-Year Secret).
On the one hand, the actions of the attorneys are unmoral, but it is so if to consider their actions from the point of view of moral ethics, but they had to use another ethics, legal one. If to consider the problem from the point of view of legal ethics, the cultural relativism theory should be checked. To be absolutely clear about what we are to consider, here is the definition of cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is a perspective that aims to understand – not condone or discredit – foreign behavior and thinking. [It is] the perspective that a foreign culture should not be judged by the standards of a home culture and that a behavior or way of thinking must be examined in its cultural context (Ferrante 2008, 77-78).
Thus, if to consider the actions of the attorneys from the cultural relativism, it is possible to state that they were right. An attorney is a person who must keep secrets which a client says him/her. This is one of the main rules in the legal ethics.
As Dale Coventry said in the interview, “…if you check with attorneys or ethics committees, it is very, very clear – it is not morally clear – but we are in a position to where we have to maintain client confidentiality… It is just a requirement of the law. The system would not work without it” (Lawyers Keep 26-Year Secret). This is really so, if to check the problem from the side of the attorneys, if to consider the rules of conduct for attorneys it is clear that Dale Coventry and Jamie Kunz could reveal the truth only after the death of their client. It is understandable from the interview that attorneys tried to find another way to tell the jury that Alton Logan was innocent, but they could not. In conclusion, it is impossible to consider the problem properly if not take into account all the aspects of the case. The main idea of the cultural relativism is that the problem should be checked from the cultural side of a person who was involved there.
Thus, considering the case of the attorneys who kept a secret about Alton Logan’s innocence, it may be stated that they were right from the side of the legal ethics and if to take into account cultural relativism. Those who try to understand this problem only from the side of moral ethics may never accept attorneys’ position. Moral and legal ethics should not be confused as these are two absolutely different notions.
Thinking morally, some attorneys are unable to act in a way their hearts tell them, they are to follow the rules dictated by the legal ethics. An attorney should keep client’s confidentiality in defiance of their personal desires and convictions.
Currier, Katherine A. and Thomas E. Eimermann. Introduction to Paralegal Studies: A Critical Thinking Approach.
Aspen: Aspen Publishers Online, 2009. Ferrante, Joan. Sociology: a Global Perspective. Stamford: Cengage Learning, 2008. Lawyers Keep 26-Year Secret. [Video]. 2008.
60 Minutes OverTime. Retrieved October 19, 2010, from http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=4126194n&tag=related;photovideo