How Attorney-Client Privilege Works


Jodi Arias, seen here testifying in the murder trial of her boyfriend Travis Alexander, later sued her attorney for breach of attorney-client privilege. Youtube screen capture

Mesa, Arizona, June 9, 2008: Travis Alexander had been radio silent for days and his friends were getting worried. When they gathered at his house, his roommate Zack Billings said that he was out of town. But it was those friends Alexander was supposed to be out of town with. So, Billings located a key to Alexander's bedroom and entered. Stepping over puddles of blood, he made his way past the bed and down the hall to the bathroom. On the floor of the shower Billings found Alexander's body [source: McDonell-Parry].

The coroner later determined that Alexander has been shot in the head — a .25 caliber shell casing was found near his body. He'd also been stabbed somewhere between 27 and 29 times and his throat had been cut. A bloody palm print on the wall was found to contain DNA from both Alexander and his sometimes-girlfriend Jodi Arias. On June 15, the police tracked down Arias in California and extradited her to Arizona for prosecution [source: McDonell-Parry].

The story was a media sensation and Arias was cast as a cold-blooded killer who committed pre-meditated murder. Arias didn't help her case by giving three different accounts of what had happened, and going into explicit detail about the couple's sex life.

In the end, she testified that she was the victim of domestic abuse and that she killed Alexander in self-defense. The jury disagreed and found her guilty of first-degree premeditated murder. She was sentenced to life without parole [source: McDonell-Parry].

But the story didn't end there, because in October 2017, one of Arias' defense lawyers, a man named L. Kirk Nurmi, published a tell-all book about the trial. In the book he disclosed client confidences about Arias and her case, including information that was excluded from her trial, plus his personal views on her guilt. Arias responded by suing Nurmi for violating attorney-client privilege, alleging that her attorney had exploited her story for his own personal gain and revealing in his book a strange hatred for his client and an even more peculiar obsession with the sexual elements of the case [source: Frankel].

In this article, we'll explore the evolution of attorney-client privilege, when and how it's applied in the legal system, and what the future holds for this most basic of legal standards.

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