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What does attorney-client privilege mean? Is it dead?

Whenever a legal topic is in the news, it may be the first time that some audience members have heard of it. Because misinformation can spread easily over the internet, it is important to understand your rights and privileges as an American.

Recently, President Trump has accused the FBI of breaching his attorney-client privilege in response to the raid of his lawyer. Although presidents have a special civic status, attorney-client privilege is a protection that every citizen can have – up to a certain point.

What is attorney-client privilege?

This privilege protects a person’s confidentiality with their lawyer. You should be able to feel confident that the conversations you have with your lawyer will not be used against you in court. You should be able to trust your lawyer to be on your side, but not judge, report or punish you.

In practice, this means that your lawyer cannot give courts copies of messages, documents or phone call recordings regarding your case without permission. Courts can’t force your lawyer to testify against you. This privilege is especially important in criminal defense cases; law enforcement can’t seize your attorney’s property to prove that you are guilty of a crime.

Attorney-client privilege is part of your right to avoid self-incrimination. Except in certain rare situations, what you tell your lawyer about your case should remain secret.

When could a citizen lose it?

Remember: attorney-client privilege itself is not a guaranteed right. The government can’t promise that a client’s information will always be private during an investigation.

Mainly, this privilege may expire when a lawyer might be contributing to a crime. This situation is a “crime-fraud exception,” which means that a client might not keep their privacy from the court if their lawyer is a suspect of unlawful activity. Investigators need to follow a careful process to ensure that the lawyer’s clients suffer minimal privacy infringement.

However, this is a very uncommon turn of events. The vast majority of citizens can expect confidentiality with their attorney no matter the facts of their defense case. Regardless of the FBI overruling President Trump’s attorney-client privilege, this protection is still alive and well for those in need of a lawyer’s support.

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