People v. Meredith Case Brief

Summary of People v. Meredith, 29 Cal.3d 682 (1981)

Relevant Facts: Two, Dfs accused of stabbing a victim to death. One Df’s atty, confided in him the whereabouts of the deceased’s wallet and the events leading up to his possession. The atty retained an investigator to find the wallet based on the Df’s communication of its location behind his house. The investigator found it and brought it to the atty, who turned it over to the police. At the prelim, the atty refused to testify whether his client informed him of the wallet’s location, and the court threatened contempt. Over objections the investigator revealed where he found the wallet.

Legal Issue(s): Whether the trial court erred in compelling defense investigator’s testimony on the location of evidence, obtained as atty work-product of a privileged communication, is afforded protection under the atty-client privilege?

Court’s Holding: An observation by defense counsel or his investigator, which is the product of privileged communication, may not be admitted unless the defense by altering or removing physical evidence has precluded the prosecution from making that same observation.

Procedure: At trial, 3rd Df atty unsuccessfully brought in limine that wallet was inadmissible as product of privilege communication. Jury found Df guilty, Dfs appeal. S. Ct. CA, Affirmed.

Law or Rule(s): Evid. Code, sec. 954, “The client. . .has a privilege to refuse to disclose, and to prevent another from disclosing, a confidential communication between client and lawyer . . . ." One who asserts the privilege must establish that a confidential communication occurred during the atty-client relationship.

Court Rationale: The Df’s statements to his former atty regarding the location of evidence fulfilled the statutory requirements, and the atty’s disclosure to the investigator did not waive the statutory privilege. Judicial decisions recognize that the privilege extends not only to the initial communication btwn client and atty but also to any information the atty or his investigator may subsequently acquire as a direct result of that communication. See W.VA v. Douglass, 20 W.Va. 770, 783; State v. Olwell, 64 Wash.2d 828 (1964); Anderson v. State, 297 So.2d 871 (1974); People v. Belge, 372 N.Y.S.2d 798. The atty-client privilege is not limited to communications, but also extends to protect observations made as a consequence of protected communications. However, courts must craft an exception to the protection extended by the atty-client privilege in cases in which counsel has removed or altered evidence. When the atty chooses to remove or alter evidence, the original location and condition of that evidence loses the protection of the privilege.

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