Trust and the Law: The Attorney-Client Privilege & Spousal Privilege in Florida
Trust is an extremely important facet of our lives. There are many aspects of our lives where we need to share with another person information that we would like to protect or at least keep from the rest of the public. Many of our relationships involving trust appear in different settings and span many different matters, which may include our home, our work, our family, our medical history, and our legal issues, to name a few.
The Law’s Perspective on Trust: The Privileges Exception
The law has a specific place for these types of relationships, and the scope of the law’s protection is in the process of being defined and limited so that when one shares information with another, he or she will know the extent of privacy and trust that is expected. Generally, there is a federal standard whereby privileges are ascertained in federal courts and outlined in the Federal Rules of Evidence. States may have their own outlined privileges that may differ from the federal standards and would apply to legal issues on the state level.
In Florida, the Rules of Evidence outlines the specific privileges whereby one may not testify against you or about a matter that was discussed between you and the person. Florida protects the following privileges (subject to specific limitations):
- Lawyer/Fiduciary Lawyer-Client Privilege;
- Husband-Wife Privilege;
- Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege;
- Clergy Communications Privilege;
- Journalist Privilege;
- Sexual Assault Counselor/Domestic Violence Advocate – Victim Privilege;
- Accountant-Client Privilege; and
- Trade Secrets Privilege.
Two of the most discussed and debated privileges are discussed below.
Lawyer/Fiduciary Lawyer-Client Privilege
The relationship between a lawyer and client is one of the most important and protected privileges available. It is important for the best advocacy possible: there should be privileged communication between the lawyer and the client in pursuance of the client’s case. Communications between a lawyer and a client will almost always be protected, except in the following circumstances:
- The communications regard services elicited from the lawyer in the pursuance of a crime; in other words, communications regarding the lawyer’s services are used to aid or enable a crime to be committed (or a plan to be concocted) are not protected.
- The communication is relevant to an issue of the lawyer’s breach of duty to a client, such as when a client wants to show that the lawyer provided ineffective assistance.
- The communication is relevant to a client’s competency when executing a document when the lawyer is a witness to the document’s execution.
Spousal communication is considered privileged when the communication occurs during and after the marriage. Spouses may refuse to disclose or prevent another from disclosing any communications that occurred between the spouses during the marital relationship, which were intended to remain in confidence and each spouse had a reasonable expectation that the communication would remain private. In a recent Florida case, spousal communication was clearly defined to only include communications; any actions or activities that either of the spouse performed and witnessed did not fall under communications. Therefore, witnessing your spouse walking into the house with blood on his/her shirt would not apply. Your spouse saying “I killed Veronica” to you would apply, however.
Spousal privilege does not apply when:
- There is a proceeding where a claim was brought by one spouse against the other;
- In a criminal proceeding where a criminal charge has been brought against one spouse for criminal actions taken against the other spouse or his/her property, or criminal actions taken against the child (or his/her property) of either spouse; or
- In a criminal proceeding where a defendant-spouse has offered into evidence the communication that occurred between them. Here, one spouse may break the privilege and agree to testify about marital communications in his/her own defense.
Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale
Trust between a client and a criminal defense attorney is crucial for effective advocacy. A client should feel that the information that he/she is revealing to an attorney will be used in preparation and on behalf of the client’s defense. An experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik understands the extent to which the law protects communications between himself and his clients. Contact the Law Offices of Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation.