Many people accused of a crime don’t know where to turn. They don’t know who they can trust. Some believe that telling an attorney what really happened could make things worse. People in this position may not realize how attorney-client privilege can help them build the best possible defense case.
Attorney-client privilege is both a rule and a moral code that allows the accused to tell their lawyers the truth without fear of repercussions. Once someone formally hires an attorney, anything they tell that attorney in private is considered privileged information.
The attorney cannot share privileged information with anyone. Moreover, if the discussion is assumed to be private (in the attorney’s office, for example), eavesdropping and hidden recordings are considered inadmissible in court.
Attorney-client privilege is so sacred to attorneys that it has become the focus of many dramas and real-life events. Take for example, the 1987 movie Sworn to Silence. In the movie, a murderer shows his attorneys the locations of his victims’ bodies. The attorneys are literally sworn to silence. Attorney-client privilege demands they don’t tell the police or the victims’ families where the bodies are located.
While that’s an extreme example, it goes to show the true depths of attorney-client privilege. A client needs to be able to tell their attorney exactly what happened. Only when all the facts are laid out can an attorney help build a powerful defense case.
While attorney-client privilege is a powerful bond, extreme circumstances may require that the attorney break their silence. For example, if a client intends to commit fraud and they ask the attorney how best to handle it before committing in the act, an attorney may have break privilege as providing advice would make them a co-conspirator in the crime.
Similarly, attorneys are often required to prevent serious violent crimes whenever possible. If a client charged with murder confesses, in confidence, that they are holding someone captive or intend to kill more people once they’re free, the attorney might have an obligation to break attorney-client privilege.
It’s a matter of preventing future crimes. In the case of “Sworn to Silence,” the crime was already done. There was no one in immediate danger. However, threatening to hurt others in the future is a different story.
If you have questions about attorney-client privilege, we are here for you. If you’d like to schedule an appointment with an experienced Rhode Island criminal defense attorney from The Law Offices of Thomas C. Thomasian, Esq., kindly send us an email or call (401) 312-4385.