Breaking Down Attorney-Client Privilege: What it Means and How it Can Affect Your Case

by Ambrosio Rodriguez | Mar 11, 2022 | Criminal Defense

Attorney-client privilege protects your communications with an attorney from being shared with other parties. When you meet with a criminal defense attorney to discuss your criminal case, you can openly talk about what occurred without fear of what you say being used against you in court. It applies whether you are innocent or guilty of the alleged crime.

What is Attorney-Client Privilege?

Privilege is the legal protection from discovery or disclosure by third parties of specific evidence or information related to a legal matter. That protection applies to the communications between a client and an attorney. We call it attorney-client privilege.

When attorney-client privilege applies, the attorney cannot be compelled to disclose any information discussed with the client. The court cannot force the attorney to testify against their client or provide protected information to the other party. In addition, the lawyer cannot voluntarily disclose the information protected by attorney-client privilege.

Likewise, the client cannot be forced to testify about the conversations with their attorney. Those statements remain confidential.

Privilege gives you the peace of mind to say anything to your lawyer and know it will be kept secret. Attorneys need all available information to provide effective representation. Attorney-client privilege encourages honest, open, and full disclosure by clients with their lawyers.

Privilege applies in all types of criminal cases, including assault, drug crimes, DUI cases, homicide, theft, and sex crimes.

When Does Attorney-Client Privilege Apply in Criminal Cases?

Generally, the following requirements are necessary for attorney-client privilege to attach to a conversation:

  • The conversation was between the attorney and a client or potential client
  • The purpose of the communication between the parties was for the person to obtain legal advice from the attorney
  • The attorney acted in their professional capacity
  • The individual expects that the information discussed during the meeting will remain private and confidential

Before privilege can attach to a conversation, there must be an attorney-client relationship between the parties. For example, signing a retainer agreement or paying the lawyer is typically evidence of an attorney-client relationship. The attorney stating in court or to other parties that they are your lawyer is other evidence of an attorney-client relationship.

However, does privilege apply to an initial consultation before the individual retains the lawyer? It can, so long as the potential client sought legal advice, reasonably relied on that advice, and was not dissuaded by the attorney from relying on that advice.

Ask the lawyer before disclosing any sensitive or private information if you are worried. The lawyer can confirm that the consultation is private and confidential. Then, you can discuss the facts of the criminal case to obtain legal advice regarding your defense options.

Can Attorney-Client Privilege Be Waived in a Criminal Case?

As with most legal concepts and laws, there are exceptions to the rule. The same applies to attorney-client privilege. The privilege can be waived under specific circumstances; there are also some exceptions to privilege.

Exceptions and waivers of attorney-client privilege include, but are not limited to:

  • Having conversations in front of other people or in places that are not private. The conversation must be private to be privileged.
  • You may voluntarily waive privilege for some information to allow the attorney to disclose that information.
  • If you seek legal advice to help you commit a crime of fraud, the discussion is not privileged. However, if you have already completed the crime, the discussions are privileged.
  • The Bureau of Prisons may monitor an inmate’s conversations with their lawyer if there is a reasonable suspicion that the inmate is using privilege to plan acts of terrorism.


Some matters may not be privileged. For example, the date and time you meet with your lawyer is not privileged. Likewise, the parties who attended a meeting may not be privileged. However, that does not mean the conversation itself is not covered by privilege.

What Should I Do After an Arrest in Los Angeles?

When the police arrest you for a crime, you should exercise two fundamental civil rights. First, exercise your right to remain silent. Talking to the police generally causes harm because you cannot talk your way out of the charges.

Second, talk with a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Tell them everything related to your case. If you hold back, it could hurt your defense. Remember, your consultation with a criminal defense attorney can be protected by attorney-client privilege.

To learn more, call our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm at 213-995-6767 or visit our contact us page to send us an email.