An attorney has an ethical obligation to act on behalf of their clients’ best interests, regardless of whether they admit to being guilty. The fact is, the attorney can’t be certain of whether their client is of sound mind when admitting guilt, doing so to protect another person, or being coerced into doing so. For this reason, a client should be truthful with their lawyer and trust that they are advocating for them.
The Courts Presume Innocence Until an Individual Is Proven Guilty
In the United States, individuals who are accused of and charged with a crime are afforded the constitutional right of being presumed innocent until the prosecutor proves they are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As an advocate for the defendant, an attorney works to weaken the evidence the prosecution has in an effort to show they have not met the burden of proof. If the prosecution has not satisfied the burden of proof, the individual should not be convicted.
When the Constitution was written, the founders of the country felt that it was better to allow many guilty individuals to walk free than to send an innocent person to prison for a crime they didn’t commit. This commitment to liberty is the reason the Constitution was written with provisions that require the prosecution to prove guilt, as opposed to requiring the defense to prove innocence.
Can an Attorney Decide to Turn in Their Client?
A client should always feel comfortable telling their attorney the whole truth of the matter for which they are being represented. Any communications that take place with the purpose of securing assistance in a legal proceeding, legal services, or securing a legal opinion are protected. The lawyer may not inform law enforcement of the information the client shares. However, there are exceptions to this rule. One of them includes crime-fraud exception.
What Is Crime-Fraud Exception?
When a client communicates something to their attorney with the purpose of committing fraud or another crime, or in the furtherance of a crime or fraud, the attorney-client privilege no longer applies. This means if a client is attempting to use their legal counsel to cover up or commit a fraud or crime, their attorney is allowed, and sometimes required, to disclose whatever the client shares to prevent the completion of the crime.
Every state has its own legislation regarding this matter. In some states, a lawyer is required to disclose client information to prevent or rectify financial frauds or crimes. In others, it is only necessary if the disclosure could prevent serious bodily injury or death to an individual. In certain scenarios, the attorney may not allow their client to falsely testify in a criminal proceeding. A general rule of thumb is that the exception is based on time. Past crimes are typically protected by attorney-client privilege, while communications regarding potential crimes in the future may not be.
The attorney-client privilege is that of the client, and as a general rule, the lawyer cannot breach or waive it. The purpose of this rule is to encourage clients to share all relevant information on a case with their attorney and not be worried that the details will be released and used against them in any way.
A client can generally assume their attorney is not going to turn them in to the authorities, so the best practice when charged with a crime is to hire a reputable criminal defense attorney and be completely honest with them.
Is It Possible to Share Too Much?
Every lawyer has their own unique approach to the way they handle criminal cases, and how much they want their clients to tell them. The basis of any criminal case is the matter the prosecution needs to prove, and many attorneys feel that “less is better,” regarding what they need to know. This technique allows the lawyer to focus on their objective and avoid any personal biases they may have that could interfere with their client’s defense.
Another factor to consider when deciding how much to share with an attorney is the fact that they are ethically obligated to not present evidence or make an argument in court that they know is untrue. If a lawyer does this, they may be in violation of their duty of candor, and therefore may be committing perjury. The attorney is required to present the facts of the case as they know them in a way that best represents their client’s interests.
Every criminal defense attorney approaches their cases in a different way, so it is best for a client to allow them to lead when consulting with them. If the lawyer asks the client to tell them the truth about what occurred, the client should be honest. However, if the client was dishonest at the very beginning and then decides to tell the “real truth,” it can create complications in the lawyer’s ability to defend them effectively.
If an attorney tells their client what the potential consequences are for the crime for which they are charged, as well as the possible defense strategies, before ascertaining the client’s version of events, the client should use that as a guide. The client’s “truth” of the details of the case should match a defense plan that has the potential for the best possible outcome.
Individuals who hire a criminal defense lawyer do so with the assumption the attorney will believe them and advocate for them. It is not the attorney’s job to challenge the defendant’s version of the case. Keep in mind, however, that if a client proposes a defense strategy the attorney feels will lead to their conviction, they should offer advice to avoid that outcome, and the client should heed their advice.
Hire an Attorney With Experience
If you have been accused of a crime, it is essential to have a lawyer with a proven track record on your side. The legal team at Exum Law Offices has the experience to look out for your interests and present the best case in your defense. Contact us today to see how we can help you.