One Man’s Privilege is Another Man’s Life Sentence

After spending 37 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit, Bill Macumber was released from prison in November 2012.  Macumber was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1975 for the murder of two people in Scotsdale, Arizona. During Macumber’s trial, Thomas O’Toole, a public defender, wrote the judge a letter asking to testify that his client, Ernest Valenzuela, had actually confessed to the double-murder being brought against Macumber.

Even though Valenzuela had died prior to when O’Toole wrote his letter, Judge Charles Hardy would not allow testimony of the confession to be heard because of Valenzuela’s attorney-client privilege. Legal ethics expert Andrew Perlman, a professor at Suffolk University Law School, explains that the court’s decision was legally correct, even if it produced an undesirable and unjust outcome in this case. “The problem is that if courts reject the privilege any time it might be perceived as necessary to uncover the truth, clients would become quite concerned about sharing any information with their lawyers.”

Should an exception be made to the duty of confidentiality to permit attorneys to disclose information that may exonerate a defendant, or would this waive the attorney-client privilege?

Read more about this case here and here.