Oregon Law Review : Vol. 86 No. 2, p. 295-327 : The Year of Truman Capote: Legal Ethics and In Cold Blood
The purpose of this study is to use Capote’s In Cold Blood as a point of reflection on several ethical obligations of lawyers. In Part I, I focus on Capote’s accounts of the prosecution’s use of expert witnesses, and his suggestion that defense counsel were (i) unable or unwilling to deal with their personal conflicts of interest and (ii) incompetent, the latter of which became the subject of disciplinary investigations and federal court review. In terms of the duties of an advocate, Capote sees the prosecution as going too far, and the defense as failing to go far enough. In Part II, I turn to the ethical limitations on lawyers as storytellers, focusing on opening and closing arguments at trial. While it would seem to be unethical to fail to tell a client’s story as dramatically as possible, there is always a risk of turning fact into fiction. I conclude in Part III that Capote’s nonfiction novel, and the circumstances surrounding its writing, provide valuable ethical insights for students and practitioners concerning the goals and limits of trial advocacy.