This weekend I had the opportunity to watch one of my favorite classic films: I Confess, starring Montgomery Clift. In this Alfred Hitchcock movie, Clift plays a priest accused of murder. However, the priest is not only innocent; he knows the identity of the real murderer because he took his confession.
During the investigation, Clift will not reveal the identity of the real murderer and almost pays for it with his life. Eventually, justice is served, but not as a result of the priest breaking the privileged communication.
As a lawyer, I found Clift's devotion to keeping the privilege fascinating. In fact, I wrote Father Jonathan Morris for his opinion on the matter and what he would do in a similar situation.
His response to me was very human. He said the privilege is absolute and that he hoped he would have the courage to do the same thing as the character in the movie. I am not sure many people would have the courage to be convicted of someone else's crime, but it does raise issues insofar as the attorney-client relationship.
What You Tell a Lawyer is Confidential, Mostly:
When someone calls my office, everything he or she tells me is confidential. Even when a person does not hire me, what they told is still held in confidence. However, I do not have to keep anyone's future plans to commit a crime confidential. When someone tells me he or she are about to commit a crime, I have every right to call the police. I do not have to be either a legal or a moral party to that crime. If someone is in danger, I will act to protect them.
People worry all the time that somehow they cannot tell their attorney the truth about their case. They are concerned the attorney will somehow act outside of their interest. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is essential to tell your lawyer the facts and circumstances of your arrest so that he or she can give the best advice.