How Attorney-Client Privilege Works In Juvenile Cases

When a young person is accused of a crime, it is not unusual for their parents to step in to provide support, financial assistance, and parental guidance. It’s also common for parents to hire a criminal defense lawyer to ensure their son or daughter has qualified, experienced representation to assist in dealing with a criminal charge.

But when your parents hire a Maine criminal defense lawyer to represent you, it raises the questions of exactly where the lines of confidentiality and attorney-client privilege are drawn. Are you the client or are your parents considered the client? Is there a conflict of interest when someone else pays the fee for representation and, if you have some private matters to discuss with  your lawyer, can they be kept from your parents?

In this blog we will answer these questions and clearly explain exactly how attorney-client privilege works when parents or another third party hires and pays for your legal representation.

If Your Parents Hire the Lawyer, Who is considered the Client?

Simply put, you are the client.  Regardless of who pays the fee, a lawyer owes complete loyalty to his or her client without regard to the wishes of the benefactor who has remitted the fee for representation.

This means that no matter what your parents may want, the criminal defense lawyer has been hired to represent you and your direction rules. Thus unless otherwise agreed upon beforehand,  your parents only have a minimal amount of control over the legal strategy you and your criminal defense lawyer undertake

Ultimately, you are the client which means that any confidential discussions you have with the lawyer your parents have hired is protected under attorney-client privilege and can only be divulged with your permission.

Does Attorney-Client Privilege mean that your lawyer cannot reveal confidential information to your parents?

Yes, in most cases. Many parents  who hire a lawyer to represent their son or daughter assume that the lawyer is free to discuss with them the details of the case and related conversations with their son or daughter.   As a practical matter in many cases the issue is easily resolved because parents and their children agree to such disclosures in light of the seriousness of the situation and the close relationship they enjoy.  However, some cases involve facts so embarrassing or worse that the juvenile client feels uncomfortable discuss them in front of his or her parents. In the latter case the lawyer is ethically bound to keep such information confidential.

Even if the juvenile has been wrongfully charged, there may be details the juvenile client wishes to share with his or her lawyer but not with a parent such as underrage drinking or spending time with friends a parent does not approve of.  Not telling your lawyer could impede the client’s defense, since he or she  needs all the information to build an effective legal strategy.  If the client instructs the lawyer to keep their conversation confidential, the lawyer is bound by that instruction.

According to the Rules of Professional Conduct (Rule 1.14)  a lawyer shall, as far as reasonably possible, maintain a normal client-lawyer relationship with the minor, particularly with regard to communication.

A parent can request confidential information to make a legally binding decision on behalf of a minor child (See 98 Formal Ethics Opinion 18). Only in rare circumstances where the parent must make a legally binding decisions can the attorney reveal information given by the minor to the parent.

98 Formal Ethics Opinion 18: Opinion rules that a lawyer representing a minor owes the duty of confidentiality to the minor and may only disclose confidential information to the minor’s parent, without the minor’s consent, if the parent is the legal guardian of the minor and the disclosure of the information is necessary to make a binding legal decision about the subject matter of the representation.

If your parents are present during conversations with your attorney, are these conversations privileged?

Yes, in some cases.  Under certain limited circumstances a juvenile’s conversation with an attorney remains confidential and privileged even in the presence of his or her parents or other third party. Generally speaking however, the presence of  any third party — like your parents, siblings, girlfriend, etc. — may defeat the attorney-client privilege and the third party may be compelled to disclose the contents of such a conversation.

However, there is a common exception to this rule that applies to parents who are present during their son or daughter’s conversation with a lawyer.  If your parents or other third party is involved in the conversation to assist the lawyer in devising strategy or in helping  build a defense, they are considered to be part of the “legal team” and this meeting  covered by the attorney-client privilege.

Thus if your parents or other person assisting in the defense are involved to  help the lawyer understand the situation or to offer parental advice on how to handle a criminal case, they cannot be compelled to disclose the details of the discussion. The entire meeting remains protected by the attorney-client privilege.  The same principle applies to anyone such as an expert who the lawyer has retained to assist in defending your case.

Facing Charges? Contact Richard S. Berne Today

When one person pays legal fees for another, confidentiality and conflict of interest can complicate the attorney-client relationship especially when the people paying for your fees are the parents of the client. However, even if your parents hire your lawyer, he or she owes an unfettered duty to you the client. And you have the right to decide what is and is not confidential. For more insights into your legal strategy or to consult with an experienced defense lawyer, contact us today!