– William Blackstone, 1783
"’tis much more Prudence to acquit two Persons, tho’ actually guilty, than to pass Sentence of Condemnation on one that is virtuous and innocent."
– Voltaire, 1749
Whether you agree with the passages above (or a similarly-stated quote by Benjamin Franklin, circa 1785), one thing is certain; they form the basis of criminal jurisprudence in the United States. At least, they used to…I think that claim would be up for strenuous debate these days.
But that's why I wanted to bring you this particular case for our examination. It doesn't matter what I think; what matters is, familiarize yourself with these issues because there's a high likelihood you'll see them – or something like them – in civil or criminal court. After all, attorney-client privilege is attorney-client privilege – it just so happens the venue in this example is criminal court, and the argument is Constitutionality in theory; the 6th Amendment Right to Counsel.
One thing that distinguishes a criminal complaint from a civil one is, when the government discovers and/or seizes evidence (whether due to reasonable suspicion, probable cause or a formal warrant) in many instances, the target does not enjoy the benefit of attorney representation (hey, it might be torture for you, but I'd say my company is enjoyable…).
Such is the case with defendant. The government seized certain computer records, and among those records were emails from defendant to his wife – which were subsequently forwarded to defendant's attorney. Defendant was convicted, but upon appeal, it was determined that the emails were subject to attorney-client privilege and the prosecutor's review of same was deemed a violation of defendant's 6th Amendment rights.
What am I telling you? First, you won't always have control over what data is turned over to the other side (do I hear "clawback agreements", anyone?) and second, if you find yourself in a situation like this, somebody on your side had better examine each and every shred of data in the possession of your adversary.
Again, this isn't a judgment on the validity/invalidity of overturning a conviction based on a technicality (I'll leave it to followers of the Casey Anthony trial to argue their perception of what's fair or unfair about the current judicial system). We have a job to do, our clients depend on us and we are to zealously represent – and protect – their interests.
File this one under Segal's Ratio: "For your client's sake, where electronic evidence is concerned, endeavor to know what you don't know."