Skip to main content

Interesting ruling on scope of attorney-client privilege

Today, the Third Circuit, in In Re: Grand Jury Investigation, ruled on interesting issues regarding attorney-client privilege, the work-product doctrine, and the crime-fraud exception. The case reached the Court after the government subpoenaed certain documents and testimony regarding an attorney’s advice to his client. The district court upheld the subpoena, holding that the crime-fraud exception trumped the attorney-client privilege and work-product doctrine because there was evidence that the attorney had given the client advice in furtherance of her obstruction of justice. After surrender of the documents and the testimony of the attorney before the grand jury, but before an indictment was returned, an object of the investigation, Jane Doe, appealed the district court’s ruling.

The Court first discussed issues of mootness. Because the Court could order relief (i.e., return of the subpoenaed documents, possible injunction of future use of arguably privileged grand jury testimony) to Doe in the event that she prevailed, the Court decided that the appeal was not moot.

Doe argued that the crime-fraud exception should not override the attorney-client privilege where she did not initiate the communication with the attorney, and therefore was not soliciting advice. The Court disagreed and further stated that the government has the burden to show that the client was committing a crime or fraud and the attorney-client communications were in furtherance of such. The Court found some evidence of an ongoing crime: obstruction of justice. Next, the Court assessed whether the attorney-client relations were "in furtherance of" and not merely "related to" the criminal activity. (Interesting note: the district court had relied on a Not Precedential Opinion ("NPO") in determining that the appropriate test for "in furtherance of" was "related to." The opinion makes clear that this was not appropriate.) Nonetheless, because the district court agreed that the attorney-client communications qualified as being "in furtherance of" Doe’s possible obstruction of justice, and thus were subject to the crime-fraud exception, the Court affirmed the district court’s ruling.


Popular posts from this blog

Double Jeopardy Claim Falls Short on Deferential Habeas Review

In the habeas matter of Wilkerson v. Superintendent Fayette SCI, Nos. 15-1598 & 15-2673, the Third Circuit defers to a state court determination that the defendant’s conviction of both an attempted murder count and an aggravated assault count based on the same altercation did not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause.
The evidence was that during the altercation, the defendant both struck the victim in the head with a gun and shot him in the chest. The Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld consecutive sentences on the theory that the evidence was sufficient to permit a jury to find the striking to support one count and the shooting the other. Despite the jury instructions’ and verdict form’s failure to require each of these discrete findings, the Third Circuit holds that the state court’s reasoning was sound enough to withstand deferential review the AEDPA’s “clearly established Federal law” limitation. “[W]here the jury instructions were merely ambiguous and did not foreclose the jury…

Jurisdiction for revocation of supervised release where revocation also imposed in other District on concurrent case and local Probation Office was not supervising releasee

In United States v. Johnson, 2017 WL 2819210 (June 30, 2017),, the Third Circuit rejected two jurisdictional challenges to a revocation proceeding in one District where the defendant was also concurrently supervised and revoked in another District. For separate federal offenses in the Middle District of Florida and Virgin Islands, Johnson was serving two concurrent terms of supervised release. He was living in and supervised by the Middle District of Florida and had no contact with the Probation Office in the Virgin Islands. He committed a new offense in Florida and the Middle District revoked his supervised release. Johnson challenged revocation proceedings in the Virgin Islands. The Third Circuit found that the Virgin Islands maintained jurisdiction. It joined the Second and Fifth Circuits in finding that concurrent terms of supervised release do not merge: the term of supervised release in the Virgin Islands was not constructively d…

Mailing Threatening Communications is a Crime of Violence and a Judicial Proposal for Reform of the Categorical Approach

In United States v. Chapman, __F.3d__, No. 16-1810, 2017 WL 3319287 (3d Cir. Aug. 4, 2017), the Third Circuit held that mailing a letter containing any threat to injure the recipient or another person in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 876(c) qualifies as a crime of violence for the purposes of the career offender enhancements of the Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 4B1.1(a).The Court acknowledged in a footnote that the analysis is the same for a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 871, threats against the president.

The Court began its analysis by reviewing the definition of “crime of violence” and specifically the meaning of the words “use” and “physical force.”Quoting United States v. Castleman, 134 S. Ct. 1405 (2014), and Tran v. Gonzales, 414 F.3d 464 (3d Cir. 2005), it defined “use” as “the intentional employment of force, generally to obtain some end,” which conveys the notion that the thing used “has become the user’s instrument.” The Court confirmed the definition of “physical force” as “force ca…