What You Need to Know about Attorney-Client Privilege

Attorney-client privilege is a celebrated American legal concept that is often cited in television and movies, and mentioned in casual conversations. In fact, it may be one of the most famous rules in the U.S. criminal justice system. Knowing more about how the attorney-client privilege works can help you work with your criminal defense attorney. The better you understand the idea of attorney-client privilege, the better your experience with the criminal justice system is likely to be.

What is attorney-client privilege?

Attorney-client privilege states that anything the attorney and client say to one another in a private setting must remain confidential. The client can admit guilt, the attorney can advise the client accordingly, and both parties may speak without worry of prosecution.

Are there any circumstances under which attorney-client privilege is null and void?

Yes. However, basically all these circumstances involve the client voluntarily or unintentionally revealing that information to others. Below are a few examples of times when the attorney-client privilege is negated by the actions of the client:

  • The client reveals details of private conversations with the attorney to someone else at a later time. If the client actually tells someone else what he or she has said to the attorney, then that conversation with the attorney is no longer private and therefore, not confidential. 
  • The client asks someone else to come into the room with the attorney to listen or be an active participant in the conversation. If the client actually invites someone else to be present in the room during a confidential conversation with the lawyer, then that conversation is no longer confidential.
  • The client reveals confidential information in a voice others can hear in a public place. By stating confidential information out loud in public, the client essentially ensures the conversation is no longer confidential. This act can overrule all attorney-client privilege.

Attorney-client privilege is what allows clients and attorneys to have open, productive, honest conversations. These conversations are meant to result in the delivery of sound legal advice from the lawyer to the client. Therefore, it's critical for clients to fully understand the ins and outs of attorney-client privilege, including when it applies and when it doesn't. For more information about this concept, speak with your criminal defense attorney. He or she will be able to answer your questions and help you learn when it's safe to talk about private, confidential matters regarding your case.