Thursday, July 31, 2014

US prosecutors routinely violate attorney-client privilege


Ed Hightower
Evidence has recently emerged of a widespread practice by prosecutors of reading emails sent by criminal defendants in prison to their attorneys. TheNew York Times published a story July 22 exposing this routine practice by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, noting that the email snooping has taken root in jurisdictions across the country.  
The monitoring of inmates’ emails to their attorneys and the use of these emails as incriminating evidence against the inmates represent a fierce attack on the core democratic right to be represented by an attorney. This right is enshrined in the 6th Amendment to the US Constitution, just following the right to a trial by jury, the right to call witnesses at trial and the right to confront one’s accuser.
American legal precedent dictates that the right to have an attorney means more for the criminal defendant than just having someone to stand next to him or her during trial. Rather, the right includes effective assistance of counsel, a major part of which is honest, confidential discussion with the attorney. Without confidentiality, honest attorney-client communication becomes virtually impossible and representation is severely compromised.
The shredding of the right to counsel makes a mockery of due process as a whole. Without the right to counsel, every other democratic right evaporates. How can one expect a fair trial, for example, without the ability to freely communicate with one’s attorney to prepare a defense?
Moreover, it is by and through attorneys that one asserts any democratic right against the encroaching power of the state. Freedom of speech, of the press and of religion, freedom of assembly, the right to privacy against unreasonable searches and seizures of the person or property, the rights against double jeopardy and self-incrimination—the first and immediate legal line of defense for these rights consists of defense attorneys arguing in courts of law.

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