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In an attorney client privilege is an attorney obligated by law to disclose the following to the proper authorities.

Los Angeles, CA |

If a client decides that they are for sure going to commit suicide but want the attorney to know about it and not tell anyone does the client privilege allow for the suicidal client's privacy?

Attorney Answers 3

Posted

Yes. The only exceptions to attorney-client privilege of matters told by the client to the attorney in confidence would be if the client was going to (1) cause imminent harm to ANOTHER person [not oneself, and not speaking of "emotional" harm to his family, etc. we're talking violent physical actions like murder or assault of another person, (2) commit perjury in a judicial proceeding, or (3) commit a crime.

Suicide would not typically involve any of those things unless the client told the attorney that the suicide was going to be disguised as a car accident, say, so that his family could collect on life insurance. In the unlikely event that kind of "crime" was discussed, personally, I'd leave it to the attorney's own conscience to call the insurance company or not, and myself might try to talk a client out of suicide but wouldn't want him/her to communicate any plans about insurance fraud, etc., I'd just stop him from discussing that with me.

So, in short, the answer to your question is basically, no.

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Jack Richard Lebowitz

Jack Richard Lebowitz

Posted

Or "yes", depending on whether your question is in the headline or the body of the text. :-) Confusing, I know, but I think you understand what I'm trying to get across here.

Posted

First, if you are seriously considering suicide I hope you take immediate steps to get some help and counseling.

As to your actual question, while it may create an ethical dilemma for the attorney, my understanding is that an attorney is still obligated to maintain the client's confidences, even under those circumstances. He or she would not be able to disclose the information because suicide is not a “criminal act” in California or any other state. Of course, if the attorney is deliberately aiding or encouraging another person to commit suicide that would be a crime in California. (Penal Code § 401 "Every person who deliberately aids, or advises, or encourages another to commit suicide, is guilty of a felony.").

THESE COMMENTS MUST NOT BE CONSIDERED LEGAL ADVICE. Comments made on websites such as Avvo.com are provided for information purposes only. The only way to determine how the law may apply to your particular situation is to consult with an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction. Answering this question does not create an attorney-client relationship or otherwise require further consultation.

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Posted

The California Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 3-100 generally prohibits such disclosure with one pertinent exception. Subdivision (B) permits disclosure of confidential information to the extent that the attorney reasonably believes the disclosure is necessary to prevent a criminal act that s/he reasonably believes is likely to result in the death of or substantial bodily harm to an individual. In the discussion appended to this rule, it is noted that there is a policy favoring the preservation of human life that underlies this exception to the duty of confidentiality and the evidentiary privilege permits disclosure to prevent a future or ongoing criminal act.

Left undiscussed are two issues: 1) whether suicide is indeed a criminal act and 2) whether the planned act might endanger the well-being of others. Of course, no one gets prosecuted for a successful suicide, but aiding, abetting or encouraging a suicide is a felony and it is an open question as to whether an attorney, if s/he offered the client any advice, would actually be violating the law. Even if no advice or encouragement were offered, if the client intended to kill his/herself in a manner that could potentially injure others, California permits but does not require attorneys to disclose the plan (not of the suicide per se) but of the planned harmful act.

If you or a loved one is contemplating suicide, my non-professional advice is to seek professional help. Even the most powerful emotions are transient. Your life is precious. Your existence matters.

This answer does not constitute legal advice. Nor is it a solicitation for business. Nor is this answer intended to be used for anything other than informational purposes. This answer should not be relied upon in any respect but as a common sense answer to a basic question. THESE COMMENTS MUST NOT BE CONSIDERED LEGAL ADVICE NOR ARE THEY INTENDED TO CREATE AN ATTORNEY/CLIENT RELATIONSHIP. Mr. Wechsler is licensed to practice law only in California. The only way to determine how the law may apply to your particular situation is to consult with an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction. Answering this question does not create an attorney-client relationship nor is it intended to be a full expostulation of the issue.

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