Should your lawyer turn you over to the government?

Lawyers advise clients. Lawyers speak for clients. Lawyers do not give up their clients. Defense lawyers do not help the government.

Criminal defense lawyer Norm Pattis hits the nail on the head and started me thinking about the duty a lawyer owes to his client. Norm tells the story of a client who is wanted by the government in which the government is asking the lawyer for the client’s phone number and/or whereabouts so they can arrest him. Does the lawyer turn over this information on his client? No. The answer is as simple as the question.

Clients hire lawyers to protect them, not turn them over. Clients provide lawyers with information about themselves so that we can better advise them. By law, we cannot reveal that information – not even to the government. If we could, why would any client ever be honest? What client would seek advice from a lawyer that doesn’t protect his interest? Of course there are exceptions to attorney-client privilege and confidential information, but those exceptions relate to future criminal acts. Should a client share a plan to commit a future crime, the lawyer must reveal that information.

Knowing a client is wanted, the lawyer has an obligation (1) to advise the client to turn himself in, (2) tell the client the ramifications and legal consequences of not surrendering, and of course (3) to not assist the client in remaining a fugitive.

Our Texas Disciplinary Rules provide: “a lawyer should keep in confidence information relating to representation of a client except so far as disclosure is required or permitted by the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.” Further, a lawyer is required to give an honest opinion about the actual consequences that appear likely to result from a client’s conduct. The fact that a client uses advice in a course of action that is criminal or fraudulent does not, of itself, make a lawyer a party to the course of action. However, a lawyer may not knowingly assist a client in criminal or fraudulent conduct. There is a critical distinction between presenting an analysis of legal aspects of questionable conduct and recommending the means by which a crime or fraud might be committed with impunity. When a client’s course of action has already begun and is continuing, the lawyer’s responsibility is especially delicate. The lawyer may not reveal the client’s wrongdoing, except as permitted or required by Rule 1.05. However, the lawyer also must avoid furthering the client’s unlawful purpose, for example, by suggesting how it might be concealed.

Regarding confidentiality, our Rules provide:¬†Except as permitted a lawyer shall not knowingly: 1) Reveal confidential information of a client or a former client to: (i) a person that the client has instructed is not to receive the information; or (ii) anyone else, other than the client, the client’s representatives, or the members, associates, or employees of the lawyer’s law firm. 2) Use confidential information of a client to the disadvantage of the client unless the client consents after consultations.

Knowing these rules, the answer remains quite simple. No, the lawyer should not reveal the client’s telephone number and/or whereabouts to authorities, unless of course the client as authorized the disclosure.

Some people may not agree, but let me ask you this:

If you were being sued for $1,000,000 based on a traffic accident that left a passenger injured, would you want your lawyer to help you? What if your lawyer helped the passenger find ways to take your money? Would you trust that lawyer? Would you hire that lawyer? Of course not. So why would the answer be different in a criminal case? Should a lawyer in a criminal case help the government? No. Your lawyer should never help the other side of the equation. Your lawyer is here to help YOU!

Absent your permission (the client’s permission), the lawyer cannot reveal the information you give him or her. This protects the integrity of the system.