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An alarming criminal law taint that must be spotlighted and cured

Some – unfortunately, not all – criminal suspects in California and elsewhere know that they do not have to answer police queries when they are undergoing an in-custody interrogation. Individuals who are facing the formidable resources and power of government agents have an important right to consult with a criminal defense attorney.

It is a hallmark of American criminal law – a time-honored and bedrock expectation – that attorney/client communications between defense counsel and criminal suspects are confidential.

That is not debatable. In fact, notes a recent national article, secretly listening to or recording a conversation between a suspect and his or her attorney “is a felony under California law.”

Luckily, that never happens, right?

Sadly, we all know it does, with damning proof sometimes emerging to confirm it.

Like this. It was recently reported that more than 1,000 privileged phone calls were recorded by law enforcers in Orange County. That matter is currently being investigated by an independent watchdog group, as it should be.

Closer to home here in Alameda County, another disturbing tale has surfaced regarding the secret monitoring of communications that should be absolutely off limits to enforcement officials. Video evidence reportedly exists that confirms taped surveillance of at least one attorney-juvenile client communication involving the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. The case against that minor was dismissed as a result. Moreover, a thorough review of every single juvenile-linked case submitted by that office this year is now underway.

Criminal law matters are routinely of great magnitude, involving fundamental rights and freedoms. Government actors command awesome investigatory powers, which makes an untainted and fundamentally fair process an imperative for ensuring the protection of suspects’ cherished constitutional rights.

Spying on privileged communications obviously makes a mockery of any alleged fairness and impartiality. Illegal recordings of privileged exchanges must always be discovered, spotlighted and punished.

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