Swidler & Berlin v. United States

Facts of the Case

When various investigations of the 1993 dismissal of White House Travel Office employees were beginning, Deputy White House Counsel

Question

Are communications between a client and his or her lawyer protected under the attorney-client confidentiality doctrine, beyond the Fifth Amendment’s protections against self-incrimination, even after the client’s death?

CONCLUSION

Yes. In a 6-to-3 opinion, the Court reminded that the purpose of the attorney-client privilege is to promote public observance of the law by encouraging complete and truthful communication between attorneys and their clients. Confidentiality, even after the client’s death, is essential for such honesty in both criminal and civil contexts. The Court held that absent a posthumous application of the attorney-client privilege, people would be likely to withhold information for fear of their friends’ or family’s reputation, civil liability, and general well-being.

Case Information

  • Citation: 524 US 399 (1998)
  • Argued: Jun 8, 1998
  • Decided Jun 25, 1998