Actual Conflict of Interest of Trial Counsel Claim in Florida

In McCrae v. State, 510 So. 2d 874 (Fla. 1987), the Court addressed a claim in which the appellant contended trial counsel had an actual conflict of interest. In particular, McCrae asserted that a State's witness was represented in an unrelated criminal prosecution by an attorney employed in the same public defender's office as McCrae's trial counsel. In rejecting this claim, the Court explained: At the hearing below, the attorney who represented appellant at trial testified that he did not know that the witness was being represented by another attorney in the same public defender's office. The other attorney, who represented the witness, testified that he did not discuss the defense of appellant with appellant's trial counsel. Because appellant's counsel was not aware of the situation, he cannot be charged with any deficiency for not taking some kind of action concerning the matter. Nor do we think that the situation called for counsel to make inquiry into the matter in order to be considered reasonably effective and within the range of normal, professional competence. We need not reach the question of whether there was an "actual" or "meaningful" conflict of interest that affected or must be presumed to have affected the outcome. See Porter v. State, 478 So. 2d 33, 35 (Fla. 1985); Foster v. State, 387 So. 2d 344, 345 (Fla. 1980). n. 1 We simply hold that no deficiency of performance by defense counsel is shown on this point. As was stated in Porter v. Wainwright, 805 F.2d 930 (11th Cir. 1986), an "actual" conflict of interest exists if counsel's course of action is affected by the conflicting representation, i.e., where there is divided loyalty with the result that a course of action beneficial to one client would be damaging to the interests of the other client. An actual conflict forces counsel to choose between alternative courses of action. Stevenson v. Newsome, 774 F.2d 1558, 1562 (11th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1089, 106 S. Ct. 1476, 89 L. Ed. 2d 731 (1986); Baty v. Balkcom, 661 F.2d 391, 395 (5th Cir. 1981) (Unit B), cert. denied, 456 U.S. 1011, 102 S. Ct. 2307, 73 L. Ed. 2d 1308 (1982). To show actual conflict, one must show that a lawyer not laboring under the claimed conflict could have employed a different defense strategy and thereby benefitted the defense. United States v. Mers, 701 F.2d 1321, 1328-30 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 991, 104 S. Ct. 482, 78 L. Ed. 2d 679 (1983). Only when such an actual conflict is shown to have affected the defense is there shown prejudicial denial of the right to counsel. Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446 U.S. 335, 104 S. Ct. 482, 78 L. Ed. 2d 679 (1980). Appellant's counsel at trial was not even aware that the state's witness was represented by the same public defender's office, so there could not have been an actual conflict. (Id. at 877.)