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COA: lawyer-client privilege protects information

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A defendant's belief that his right to seek exculpatory evidence trumps the attorney-client privilege is incorrect, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

In Rusty R. Skinner v. State of Indiana, No. 55A01-0811-CR-543, Rusty Skinner sought to compel his prior attorney to provide information that would allegedly impeach witness Jason Wingler's testimony. Wingler was expected to testify that Skinner told him information that would be contrary to Skinner's self-defense claim. Skinner faced charges of attempted murder, robbery, carjacking, and operating a vehicle while intoxicated for attacking a man and taking his property and car.

Skinner's attorney previously had represented Wingler, so he knew of information materially adverse to Wingler. Skinner's attorney filed a motion to withdraw upon learning Wingler was called to testify, which the court granted.

Skinner, through his new attorney, filed a motion to compel his previous attorney to provide the alleged evidence that would impeach Wingler's credibility. The trial court denied the motion, and the Court of Appeals accepted Skinner's interlocutory appeal.

For information sought in a criminal case to be properly discoverable, the factors of particularity, relevance, and paramount interest in nondisclosure must be balanced. In this case, the paramount interest is the attorney-client privilege. Attorneys aren't required to testify regarding confidential communications made to them during the course of their professional business unless the testimony would meet one of the six exceptions under the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct.

The information sought by Skinner doesn't fall under any of those exceptions, wrote Judge L. Mark Bailey. In addition, Skinner has access to other information that could help him impeach Wingler, such as Wingler's criminal history of crimes of dishonesty and that Wingler is asking for a guaranteed sentence modification in exchange for his testimony.

"Based on the relevance of the material, its availability from other sources, and the nature and importance of any interests invaded, we conclude that the information sought is not discoverable due to the protection provided by the attorney-client privilege," the judge wrote.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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