Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Prosecutors Reading Inmate/Lawyer E-mails

I just finished reading this article in the New York Times.  It was quite troubling.  It is a hallmark of our law that attorney-client communications are privileged, meaning that they are not subject to review by law enforcement, county attorneys, judges, or others.  I cannot fathom why there would be a distinction between written correspondence sent through the mail and written correspondence sent via the internet.

Certainly I understand (and regularly advise my incarcerated clients) that their communications, whether they be written, telephonic, or otherwise, with others (i.e. not their attorney) are subject to review by the jail, law enforcement, and prosecutors.  In fact, I have seen situations where those very communications lead to new charges for witness tampering, as well as being used as proof for the underlying offense.  And this, from society's prospective, makes sense to ensure that witnesses aren't being tampered with, criminal activities are not ongoing, public safety, etc.

But I do have a problem with inmates being lead to believe that their conversations with their attorneys are private/confidential/privileged, and then those conversations and statements being used against them.  This is just plain wrong, and I believe contrary to our system of law and justice.

Moreover, as the Court recently recognized in the Riley case, how we communicate with each other and interact with our world is changing.  When these types of systems are put in place to facilitate regular and easy contact between incarcerated clients and their attorneys (which I applaud), then they need to be protected just as more antiquated systems for contact (such as the mails).  Otherwise, these systems are entirely useless to attorneys as a means to communicate with incarcerated clients.

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