The Justice System: Attorney- Client Conversations – Who is Listening?

The Justice System: Attorney- Client Conversations – Who is Listening?

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In the justice system, when people are incarcerated, they should not expect much privacy. It is understood that law enforcement needs to be able to observe inmates, even listening in on their phone calls and reading their mail. However, law enforcement officials from prison guards to prosecutors know that there are certain privileges that even incarcerated individuals have, especially the attorney-client privilege.

This privilege between an attorney and client ensures a free flow of information that is vitally necessary for the accused to receive effective representation as defined by the U.S. Constitution. A client must feel safe about being honest with their advocate. It is a privilege that has been traced as far back as ancient Rome and has been a vital protection in American jurisprudence since the founding of our nation. Still, despite the importance of the attorney-client privilege, a federal prosecutor has recently admitted to listening to recorded conversations between multiple inmates and their lawyers.

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As reported in the ABA Journal, Erin Tomasic, a Special Assistant United States Attorney in Kansas City, recently quit her job after admitting to her supervisor that she listed to recorded attorney-client conversations from inmates at Leavenworth federal prison. Although she expressed remorse and felt that, ultimately, there was no harm in her eavesdropping, the problem is much bigger than just these limited events. It is seemingly much too easy to violate this important privilege, and society should not be at law enforcement’s mercy when it comes to protecting the attorney-client privilege. No matter how ethical law enforcement is, whether federal, state, or local, there are always bad apples that spoil the bunch. And this type of power in the hands of unethical law enforcement calls into question the integrity of the justice system, and in the end, will ruin innocent people’s lives.

Fortunately, a US District Court Judge ordered a wider investigation citing issues with prosecutors’ “inconsistent, inaccurate or misleading statements.” The prison recordings probe itself grew out of an earlier criminal investigation into how contraband was entering the privately run prison operated by CoreCivic Inc. Defense attorneys have also sued CoreCivic and the prison’s telephone provider, Securus Technologies for recording the attorney-client conversations in violation of state wiretapping laws. Some see this as a much larger problem nationwide since private prisons are not bound by the Federal Bureau of Prisons prohibitions against recording such conversations.

Ultimately, everyone should assume that when in custody, the attorney-client privilege may not be respected by law enforcement. This applies whether the person is in temporary custody at the local police station, or serving a sentence in state or federal prison.

Although many in law enforcement operate with high ethical standards, the Law Office of John Freeman, PLLC knows that you have to be vigilant with your legal defense on all fronts. If you or someone you know is arrested and in custody, call attorney John Freeman for a free consultation.