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Proposed Change to Rule of Privilege in Texas Criminal Cases

I wrote last year about the interplay of Texas Disciplinary Rule of Professional Conduct 1.05 and Texas Rule of Evidence 503, and their surprising cumulative effect on the attorney-client and work-product privileges in Texas. Now the Court of Criminal Appeals proposes amending Rule 503 to remove the “special rule of privilege in criminal cases”:

(2) Special rule of privilege in criminal cases. In criminal cases, a client has a privilege to prevent the lawyer or lawyer’s representative from disclosing any other fact which came to the knowledge of the lawyer or the lawyer’s representative by reason of the attorney-client relationship.

(PDF of proposed rule change.)

The effect of the rule change will be to bring privilege in Texas criminal cases in line with privilege in civil cases and, coincidentally, with what most Texas criminal lawyers thought the rule was. Now, things that the lawyer learns by reason of the attorney-client relationship will be treated as “unprivileged client information” rather than “privileged information.”

In Texas before the rule change, there was no such thing as “unprivileged client information” in criminal cases. Because the rules of evidence made everything privileged, the lawyer could not reveal anything without the client’s consent (even if revelation was in the client’s best interest).

Unprivileged client information is confidential, and cannot be freely disclosed by the lawyer, but it may be revealed, according to Rule 1.05, in more situations than privileged information can. For example, “when the lawyer has reason to believe it is necessary to do so in order to carry out the representation effectively” she can reveal unprivileged confidential client information, but not privileged client confidences.

Why the change? I’ve no idea.


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