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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. Access to the court (judiciary branch of government) is the REAL problem, NOT necessarily lack of access to an attorney. Unfortunately, I've lived in a legal and financial hell for the past six years due to a divorce (where I was, supposedly, represented by an attorney) in which I was defrauded of settlement and the other party (and helpers) enriched through the fraud. When I attempted to introduce evidence and testify (pro se) in a foreclosure/eviction, I was silenced (apparently on procedural grounds, as research I've done since indicates). I was thrown out of a residence which was to be sold, by a judge who refused to allow me to speak in (the supposedly "informal") small claims court where the eviction proceeding (by ex-brother-in-law) was held. Six years and I can't even get back on solid or stable ground ... having bank account seized twice, unlawfully ... and now, for the past year, being dragged into court - again, contrary to law and appellate decisions - by former attorney, who is trying to force payment from exempt funds. Friday will mark fifth appearance. Hopefully, I'll be allowed to speak. The situation I find myself in shouldn't even be possible, much less dragging out with no end in sight, for years. I've done nothing wrong, but am watching a lot of wrong being accomplished under court jurisdiction; only because I was married to someone who wanted and was granted a divorce (but was not willing to assume the responsibilities that come with granting the divorce). In fact, the recalcitrant party was enriched by well over $100k, although it was necessarily split with other actors. Pro bono help? It's a nice dream ... but that's all it is, for too many. Meanwhile, injustice marches on.

  2. Both sites mentioned in the article appear to be nonfunctional to date (March 28, 2017). http://indianalegalanswers.org/ returns a message stating the "server is taking too long to respond" and http://www.abafreelegalasnswers.org/ "can't find the server". Although this does not surprise me, it is disheartening to know that access to the judicial branch of government remains out of reach for too many citizens (for procedural rather than meritorious reasons) of Indiana. Any updates regarding this story?

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