What Is Attorney-Client Privilege?

If you’ve been accused of a crime, you’ll need someone on your side who can aid your defense and fight for your rights. A professional DUI attorney could make the difference between facing the fullest extent of the penalties for your accusations or walking away with a not-guilty verdict that leaves you free to live as you please once again. But who’s to say that person who you have confided in can’t in turn testify against you? Why don’t prosecutors simply call your attorney to the stand and ask them about what you’ve told them?

The answer lies in an important rule which protects the relationship between an attorney and their client, enabling them to work together without fear or worry that either side may in turn be betrayed by the other. This rule is known as attorney-client privilege. To put it simply, attorney-client privilege is a principle which states that communications between attorneys and their clients are protected. Attorneys cannot reveal the details of these conversations unless their client agrees to waive this privilege, which then means that an attorney cannot be called to testify against their client or in any way implicate them.

What Is Protected by Attorney-Client Privilege?

Attorney-client privilege can extend to any form of communication between an attorney and their client, including conversations, written communication like email or text message, phone calls, written mail, and many more. There are a few major stipulations to how this works: a communication must be between an attorney and someone with whom they have an attorney-client relationship and during which time they are acting in a professional capacity. Second, the conversation must take place in private, or in some form whereby it cannot be overheard or intercepted legally.

However, communication which takes place in a public forum or in any place where a conversation may be legally intercepted or overheard is not protected by attorney-client privilege. Attorney-client privilege only extends to an attorney and their client, not to any third parties which may be privy to a conversation, intentionally or otherwise. That means if someone were to overhear some of the conversation you have with your attorney in a public place, they could then be summoned to testify about what they heard, thus eliminating the protection. This is why attorneys will also often decline or hesitate to accept meetings with clients in public places, especially when it’s to discuss the details of a case.

Attorney-client privilege also does not extend to the online sphere, including social media. Even if you have your accounts locked down as tightly as possible, anything posted online should be considered to be public information, and thus it’s not granted the same guarantee of privacy. This is yet another reason why attorneys will often advise you to shut down your social media accounts during a legal proceeding—you never know what eyes will be looking at what you’re posting.

Exceptions to Attorney-Client Privilege

There are two major exceptions to attorney-client privilege. The first exception is if a communication is made with the intent of defrauding the attorney. For example, if a fraudster reaches out to an attorney with claims they’re facing criminal charges, but in reality is simply trying to get them to funnel money into a fund that they can then take off with, the communications are not protected by attorney-client privilege. In these cases, an attorney can and most likely will testify against you, even though the communication may have initially been assumed to be protected by attorney-client privilege.

The second exception to attorney-client privilege is when someone makes a credible, legitimate threat of harm against someone else to an attorney, and their failing to report it would result in that person’s severe injury or death. In this instance, not only is the communication not protected, but an attorney could actually be compelled to notify authorities about the threat so the other person can be protected.

Let’s look at an example: say someone robs a bank, but is caught and arrested by authorities who were tipped off by the robber’s spouse about their plans. When meeting with their attorney for the first time, the robber tells their attorney that they’re going to have their spouse killed for their part in stopping their crime. At this point, the attorney may actually be required to report the credible threat.

If you’ve been accused of a DUI, get help from an experienced Birmingham DUI lawyer as soon as possible! Contact Tidwell Law Group by dialing (205) 536-7770 today for an initial consultation.