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Lawyer-Client Privilege

A massive data breach allegedly experienced by the Dallas-based prison phone company Securus Technologies has resulted in compromising the lawyer-client privilege for thousands of prison inmates nationwide, the International Business Times reports. According to the IBT, an anonymous hacker released documents indicating that thousands of recorded calls between inmates and their lawyers may have been accessed as a result of the breach, destroying the confidentiality of those communications. Such an enormous breach, with an accompanying lack of trust in the confidentiality of prison communication systems, could seriously affect the quality of representation these inmates are able to receive from their lawyers.

What is lawyer-client privilege?

At its most basic level, the rule is this: when you talk to your lawyer about your case, your lawyer cannot tell anyone what you say. The lawyer-client privilege protects confidential communications between lawyers and their clients in all types of cases, including criminal cases. It prevents an lawyer from being compelled to testify against a client, so that a client can freely share information that his lawyer needs to be able to represent him effectively, without fear that any information will be used against him. In Florida, the privilege is governed by Section 502 of Chapter 90, the Florida Evidence Code, as well as Rule 4-1.6 of the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers. The privilege belongs to the client, who has the right to prevent disclosure of confidential communications with a lawyer made in the course of legal representation.

When does the lawyer-client privilege apply?

The privilege applies to written or oral communications between a lawyer and client for the purpose of obtaining legal advice. The statute defines a “lawyer” as anyone authorized to practice law in any state, as well as anyone whom a client “reasonably believes” to be so authorized. A “client” is anyone consulting a lawyer for the purpose of obtaining legal representation or who receives legal services from a lawyer. A communication is confidential if there was no intent to disclose it to third parties, except as might be necessary to transmit the communication or further the lawyer’s representation of the client.

The Rules of Professional Conduct go farther than the statute in protecting lawyer-client communications. While the statute only protects communications intended to be confidential, the comments to Rule 4-1.6 state that confidentiality attaches to “all information relating to the representation, whatever its source.”

Can confidential communications ever be revealed?

Yes, under certain circumstances. According to the statute, there is no privilege when the lawyer’s services were engaged to help anyone commit or plan to commit what the client knew to be a crime or fraud. Additionally, the statute allows for exceptions to the privilege when there are certain disputes between lawyer and client, or between multiple clients represented by the same lawyer.

Further, the Rules of Professional Conduct say that a lawyer must reveal confidential communications when the lawyer believes it is reasonably necessary to:

  1. prevent a client from committing a crime; or
  2. to prevent death or substantial bodily harm to someone.

Finally, the Rules expressly permit a lawyer to reveal confidential communications under the following circumstances:

  1. to serve the client’s interest, unless the client specifically requests that it not be revealed;
  2. to establish a claim or defense on the lawyer’s behalf in a controversy between lawyer and client;
  3. to establish a defense to a criminal charge or civil claim against the lawyer based on conduct in which the client was involved;
  4. to respond to allegations in a proceeding concerning the lawyer’s representation of the client; and
  5. to comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Consult a Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you are involved in a criminal proceeding, you need an experienced criminal lawyer by your side. The experienced lawyers of The Baez Law Firm, with offices in Miami and Orlando, have the skills to provide top representation in any criminal case, big or small. Contact us for a consultation today.

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