Attorney-Client Privilege

Privilege is a word you hear a lot in the criminal justice system, and this post will go into what it is, what it applies to, and how it works. Specifically, there are two types of privilege we will be discussing: privileged conversations and privilege documentation.

What is it?

Privilege, as a legal term, refers to a particular benefit, advantage, or immunity enjoyed by a person or class of people. In the legal world, privilege is most often used as an exemption; that is, to prevent information from being disclosed or used by one side or the other. For example, a conversation that an individual has alone with their attorney is a privileged conversation. That is attorney-client privilege. What does that mean? Well, it means that there is no legal method to compel either of those two parties to disclose what was said in that conversation, even if the defendant made a full confession of crimes to the attorney. Similarly, there are documents that can be privileged as well. During a criminal case most materials related to the case are discoverable, meaning that each party has a duty to disclose the material to the other side. Medical records, police reports, and investigator statements are all examples of discoverable material. However not all documents are discoverable, and for obvious reasons. One example of this would be a defense attorney’s notes on a trial strategy. These documents are exempt from the discovery process, and there is no legal method that could compel the defense attorney to give this to the State.

With Your Lawyer

Privilege works in many different ways, and applies to many things that you would not normally expect. For example, a defendant’s communication with his attorney, or the staff in their office, is privileged information. That means even if the defendant’s mother called the law office to get the defendant’s new cellphone number, the office would be unable to disclose this information without written consent from the defendant. While you normally wouldn’t imagine things like an e-mail address, phone number, or even appointment times being that secretive information, it would fall under the umbrella of privileged information.

With Your Spouse

Another example of privilege exists between spouses. We’ve all seen some movie or TV show where someone says that a husband and wife cannot be forced to testify against one another. This is true, well sort of. First off, this privilege does not exist in any form if there was a third party there, so a conversation that was a husband, wife, and a close friend is fair game. Another part of marital privilege to remember is that it only starts existing once two individuals have married. That means a conversation had two months before the husband and wife got married is not covered under Marital privilege.

Privilege and Your Case

So what does privilege really do for your criminal case? Quite a lot. Being able to have an open and honest conversation with your attorney is the single most helpful thing that you can do. Some people will hold back information, or only be fully honest once evidence has been produced during the discovery process, which can be counterproductive and damaging to your case. Defense attorneys have heard it all, from the most mundane to the most heinous, and because this is our chosen profession, we don’t stigmatize or judge our clients. The more honest you are with your attorney, the quicker and easier it is for them to plan the best defense for your case. Attorney-client privilege is meant to foster that kind of honesty and open communication. If you or someone you know is currently charged, or believes he is going to be charged, contact our office for a free consultation.