Illinois residents may be aware that communications between lawyers and their clients are considered privileged, and they may also know that lawyers can face severe sanctions if they report things that they have been told by those they represent. While discussions between attorneys and their clients may be the most widely known form of privileged communication, a number of other relationships are afforded similar legal protection.
During criminal judicial proceedings, doctors cannot be compelled to disclose the details of the medical treatment they are providing to the defendant or matters discussed while their treatment plan was being formulated. In some states, this protection is extended to include communications between defendants and nurses or dentists. However, the scope of this protection is limited, and matters unrelated to medical conditions or treatment is not protected. Communications between psychotherapists and their patients is also privileged, and therapists cannot be compelled to reveal matters that the defendant revealed during private sessions.
Conversations between spouses are also protected, and defendants in criminal proceedings can prevent their husbands or wives from testifying against them in most state courts even if they want to. However, federal criminal courts allow spouses to testify if they wish to as this wish is a sign that the relationship is not worthy of protection. A valid marriage must be in place for this immunity to apply, and the privilege dies when the marriage ends.
The criminal justice system is designed to protect the innocent, and it is very important that defendants in criminal proceedings are able to talk openly with their attorneys. While criminal defense attorneys are not permitted to reveal the details of protected conversations, they are also ethically required to only submit evidence that they believe to be true. This means that an individual who has admitted guilt to their attorney may not be asked to testify in court.