Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

Can a criminal defense attorney be ordered to testify against a former client?

Posted on: July 15, 2007 at 10:55 a.m.

Typically lawyers do not testify against clients. That is based on the attorney-client privilege, which protects all communications between a lawyer and his client. If a lawyer were forced to testify, the level of confidentiality between criminal attorneys and their clients would be violated, so that clients would not feel free to tell their lawyers everything, which could of course affect the lawyer's ability to effectively represent the client. Recently, in the Phil Spector case, a criminal defense lawyer was ordered to testify. Why? The criminal attorney witnessed a defense criminalist remove a piece of evidence from the crime scene, and fail to turn it over to the police.

Spector's former L.A. criminal defense lawyer maintained that ethical obligations prevented her from taking the stand against her former client. The criminal attorney then reversed her position a day after the state Supreme Court rejected her appeal of contempt of court charges and sided with a judge who had promised to put her behind bars if she did not testify. As a result, this L.A. criminal attorney spent 30 minutes on the witness stand, recounting what prosecutors say was the destruction or concealment of crime-scene evidence by Dr. Henry Lee, the famed forensic scientist working for the defense.

The reason the testimony was allowed was that the criminal defense attorney's observations were not communications between her and her client. Further any privilege claims were waived when she had testified to the removal of evidence from the crime scene weeks earlier in a court hearing outside the jury's presence.

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Dorilee Meyer on November 20, 2007 at 5:35 p.m. wrote:

It seems that the defense attorney attempted to stretch the attorney-client privilege too far in the Spector case. The rationale behind the attorney-client privilege is to ensure open and honest communication between lawyer and client. Obviously, this serves a noble purpose of affording one adequate legal representation without fear of reprisal for being candid. In the Spector case, the attorney seemed to believe that she was obligated to withhold all evidence that might prove unfavorable to her client, absent any communication between them. Criminal defense attorneys must and should defend their clients zealously, but they should not feel guilty if they are ordered to provide non-privileged testimony that just happens to strengthen the prosecution's case.

Kate Monson on October 30, 2007 at 12:27 a.m. wrote:

While I understand the importance of attorney-client privilege, I think Spector

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