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Attorney-Client Privilege

Evidence Code 954 - Attorney-Client Privilege in California

Under California Evidence Code 954, the California attorney-client privilege makes any private communication between you and your lawyer confidential and protected from disclosure.

Notably, there are a few exceptions. First, this privilege does not apply when you seek an attorney's help in committing a crime or fraud. It also does not apply if the attorney has reason to believe that disclosure of confidential attorney-client communication is necessary to prevent substantial bodily harm or death.

Attorney-Client Privilege in California
The attorney-client privilege ensures private communication with a lawyer is confidential.

The attorney-client privilege in California is necessary for effective legal representation because you must be able to share all relevant information with your attorney without a belief that the district attorney could use the information against you in court.

In the California attorney-lawyer-client privilege context, "attorney" means anyone authorized to practice law or anyone the client reasonably believes has authorization to practice law in California or another state.

Additionally, it includes a law firm and all the members of the California State Bar who work for the law firm. Notably, the attorney-client privilege does apply to communications with jailhouse lawyers or others who offer legal advice without having a license.

In the context of the attorney-client privilege, a "client" is anyone who consults a lawyer to obtain legal advice or services from them or to hire (retain) them.

While most clients consult an attorney personally, the privilege still applies when communication is through an authorized person. This means that the attorney-client privilege starts before you hire a lawyer and covers conversations you have with a lawyer when deciding whether to hire them.

Attorney-Client Privilege - Quick Facts

  • The content of your communication with a lawyer after being charged with a crime is protected by law.
  • The information you give a lawyer cannot be used against you in court, even if you admit you committed the crime.
  • Communication between attorneys and clients is confidential.
  • The primary purpose of this law is to ensure you can openly discuss your legal situation with your attorney without fear of reprisal.
  • The lawyer-client privilege protects your communications even after the attorney-client relationship ends.
  • Even if you fire your attorney or they terminate the relationship for not paying their fees, they still cannot reveal anything you told them in confidence.
  • This attorney-client privilege is related to the right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
  • The attorney-client privilege extends to third parties, such as when your lawyer shares privileged information with their legal team or experts.
  • If you told your spouse what you said to the attorney in confidence., they are also bound by attorney-client privilege and can't be forced to disclose it.
  • You can "waive" the lawyer-client privilege by voluntarily disclosing a portion of the privileged communication to a third party or giving consent to anyone.
  • If you fail to claim the attorney-client privilege in a court proceeding when you have a legal right to do so, you will be considered to have given consent to disclose the privileged information.

What is Evidence Code 954?

California Evidence Code 954 defines the attorney-client privilege. It gives your lawyer the legal right not to disclose the contents of your communication with them.

Additionally, it gives you the right to require confidentiality from your lawyer and make any breaches inadmissible in court. This law makes any communications between attorneys and their clients privileged. Simply put, the lawyer can't disclose your confidential communications with them.

California Evidence Code 954

Evidence Code 954 says, "Subject to Section 912 and except as otherwise provided in this article, the client, whether or not a party, has the privilege to refuse to disclose and to prevent another from disclosing, a confidential communication between client and lawyer if the privilege is claimed by:

(a) The holder of the privilege,

(b) A person who is authorized to claim the privilege by the holder of the privilege; or

(c) The person who was the lawyer at the time of the confidential communication, but such person may not claim the privilege if there is no holder of the privilege in existence or if he is otherwise instructed by a person authorized to permit disclosure.

The relationship of attorney and client shall exist between a law corporation as defined in Article 10 (commencing with Section 6160) of Chapter 4 of Division 3 of the Business and Professions Code and the persons to whom it renders professional services, as well as between such persons and members of the State Bar employed by such corporation to render services to such persons.

The word "persons" used in this subdivision includes partnerships, corporations, limited liability companies, associations, and other groups and entities."

Evidence Code 954 - Quick Facts

  • California Evidence Code 954 describes the terms of attorney-client privilege and how it is protected under the law.
  • You can refuse to disclose confidential communications between you and your attorney, including written or oral.
  • You can forbid your lawyer from disclosing confidential information.
  • Your attorney must refuse to disclose the contents of client communications if they are asked to do so.
  • This privilege still covers any conservations you had with a defense lawyer during an initial consultation but before hiring them.
  • This privilege does not apply to communications with "jailhouse lawyers" or anyone who offers legal advice without a professional license.

What is an Attorney-Client Relationship?

To know what is legally protected under attorney-client privilege, you must understand who qualifies as a "lawyer" and who is considered a "client." Consider the following:

  • A lawyer is licensed to practice law in California, or the client believes they are a lawyer. Suppose you shared confidential information about your case with someone who said they were a lawyer but not licensed. In that case, that person must still follow the attorney-client privilege.
  • A client is somebody who hires or consults with a lawyer. The attorney-client privilege still applies if you do not retain them. If you consult with them to possibly keep them, your conversations are still protected under the law and may not be disclosed.

What Are the Exceptions?

As noted, some exceptions to attorney-client privilege exist, meaning the legal protections don't apply, as discussed below.

An exception is to further a crime or fraud. Suppose your conversation with an attorney includes a plan to commit a crime or fraud. In that case, the attorney-client privilege doesn't apply.

Also, there is imminent death or harm. Suppose your attorney believes that keeping your information confidential would significantly harm somebody or cause death. In that case, they are not required to follow the attorney-client privilege.

If you are under investigation or already charged with a crime, you should not discuss the details with anyone before consulting with a California criminal defense lawyer. For more information, please contact our law firm, Cron, Israels & Stark, in Los Angeles, CA.

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