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Last Updated on: 15th January 2024, 10:57 pm
Arizona DOJ Subpoenas Criminal Defense Lawyers: What You Need to Know
The Arizona Department of Justice (DOJ) has recently begun issuing subpoenas to criminal defense lawyers representing clients in ongoing investigations and cases. This controversial move has raised concerns among attorneys about potential violations of attorney-client privilege and the constitutional rights of defendants.
Why is the Arizona DOJ Subpoenaing Defense Lawyers?
According to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, the DOJ is subpoenaing defense attorneys as part of broader investigations into gangs, drug trafficking organizations, and other criminal enterprises. The subpoenas seek information from attorneys about their clients that prosecutors believe may be involved in illegal activity.Defenders of the practice argue that it can provide critical evidence to dismantle dangerous criminal organizations. However, many lawyers believe it threatens the sacrosanct relationship between lawyers and clients. Attorney-client privilege exists so that people accused of crimes can speak openly with their lawyers without fear that what they say will be used against them.“When the government interferes with that relationship and chills free and open communications between attorneys and clients, it threatens the integrity of the judicial system and the constitutional guarantees of effective assistance of counsel and due process afforded to all defendants,” said one Phoenix defense attorney.
What Information Are Prosecutors Seeking?
The subpoenas request a wide range of materials related to current and past client representations, including:
- Details about client fees and payments
- Client names, contact information, and affiliations
- Attorney notes, memos, recordings, and correspondence
- Information about defense investigations and trial strategies
Prosecutors are using the subpoenas to map connections between suspects as part of racketeering and conspiracy cases. However, defense lawyers argue this allows the government to indirectly violate the attorney-client privilege.“We believe prosecutors are on an unconstitutional fishing expedition for information about clients who have not even been charged with any crimes,” said the executive director of the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, a nonprofit lawyer membership organization.
The Legal Battle Over DOJ Subpoenas
In 2019, the Arizona Supreme Court heard a petition filed by a Phoenix law firm challenging the DOJ’s authority to issue such subpoenas. The court ruled that federal wiretap laws do not prohibit the subpoenas, but sent the case back to a lower court to determine if the subpoenas violate attorney-client privilege or defendants‘ Sixth Amendment right to counsel.Defense lawyers argue that both principles preclude prosecutors from obtaining information about client representations in ongoing cases. However, prosecutors contend they have safeguards in place to protect privileged materials.Several Arizona bar associations have filed amicus briefs supporting the defense lawyers, arguing that the DOJ subpoenas undermine public trust in the legal profession. But so far judges have been reluctant to issue broad rulings limiting prosecutorial powers.
What This Means for People Facing Criminal Charges
If you or a loved one have been contacted by police or prosecutors in Arizona as part of an ongoing gang or drug investigation, here is what you need to know:
- Your communications with your lawyer remain confidential. Attorney-client privilege still protects statements made to your attorney and most attorney work product.
- Your lawyer has ethical duties to protect your information. Ethical rules prohibit lawyers from voluntarily disclosing confidential client information, even in response to a subpoena.
- There are risks in sharing sensitive information. Until the courts resolve challenges to the DOJ subpoenas, prosecutors could potentially access client information through lawyers. Limit what you share accordingly.
- Your lawyer may have to withdraw or limit representation. If prosecutors directly target your defense lawyer as part of an investigation, they may have to stop representing you due to a conflict of interest.
- Seeking experienced criminal defense counsel is essential. An experienced lawyer can navigate these issues and defend your case in light of these developments.
The Arizona DOJ’s tactics have sparked national debate about prosecutorial powers versus defense lawyers‘ duty to vigorously represent their clients. With the legal landscape still uncertain, anyone facing criminal liability should consult with an attorney to understand their rights and strategize the best defense. Defense lawyers may face difficult decisions balancing ethical duties to clients and courts.
Finding an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Arizona, finding an experienced criminal defense lawyer is critical, especially given the DOJ subpoenas. Well-regarded defense firms will have a deep understanding of prosecutors‘ powers, defendants‘ rights, and the ethical rules governing lawyers.