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Attorney-Client Privilege in Wisconsin

Posted on in Criminal Defense

criminal justice system, Wisconsin defense lawyer, Wisonsin criminal defense attorneyAttorneys act as people's representatives in court, often making tactical decisions when there is no time to consult with their client. Additionally, attorneys work with clients to develop overarching legal strategies. In order to do this job well, attorneys need to have a clear picture of all the facts that their client knows, which means they need complete honesty from their clients. For instance, a criminal defense attorney will not be able to develop a strong trial strategy if their client lies about where they were when the crime was committed. In order to foster this complete honesty, Wisconsin law provides clients with attorney-client privilege. This privilege protects clients from being forced to testify about conversations with their attorney, and it affords the same protection for lawyers.

When Privilege Applies

The purpose of the privilege is to help people get candid legal advice, so it does not apply to every conversation that anyone has with a lawyer. Instead, it applies only to communications between lawyers and clients or representatives of either party, which means that a communication between a legal secretary and a client could qualify for privilege if it meets the other requirements. Additionally, the communication must be confidential. That does not necessarily mean that only the lawyer and client were present for it, but it cannot be a public communication. Finally, the communication must be made for the “purpose of facilitating the rendition of professional legal services.” If something meets these qualifications, then it is protected from forced disclosure in most circumstances.

It is also important to distinguish attorney-client privilege from the attorney's duty of confidentiality. Attorney-client privilege is a matter of evidence. It means that the other side in a case cannot compel an attorney to talk about conversations with the client. The duty of confidentiality is much broader and prevents attorneys from voluntarily disclosing private information in any circumstance, not just as testimony.

Exceptions to Privilege

Importantly, the attorney-client privilege, while extensive, is not absolute. For instance, if a lawyer jointly represents two clients and they later have a dispute, then the lawyer may be allowed to disclose otherwise privileged communications. Similarly, if the lawyer and client later get into a dispute, the lawyer is allowed to reveal privileged communications to defend themselves.

Another exception to the privilege is the crime-fraud exception, which states that privilege does not apply if the person used the lawyer's services to help with or plan a crime. Importantly, this is different from an already completed crime. For example, if a person asked an attorney what the best way to get away with a specific murder was, that would not be privileged. However, if the person committed a murder, hired an attorney, and then disclosed the location of the weapon, that would be privileged.

That example demonstrates the magnitude of protection that the relationship between criminal defendants and their attorneys gets. If you have recently been charged with a crime and want to learn more about the benefits of hiring an attorney, contact an experienced Milwaukee criminal defense attorney today.
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