Proposed law would ban federal prosecutors from reading emails between prison inmates and attorneys

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Federal officials in Brooklyn, New York, say it isn’t practical to segregate inmate emails to their legal counsel from ordinary email. So the feds have solved the confidentiality problem by saying there isn’t any: Prosecutors have the right to review the electronic communications, although in-person attorney-client conversations and hard-copy letters are privileged.

That could change in Brooklyn and other jurisdictions with similar practices if a bipartisan bill that two U.S. lawmakers expect to introduce within the next week is enacted into law. Absent national security concerns, it would ban prosecutors from reading attorney-client email, the New York Times (reg. req.) reports.

“I assume that most fair-minded prosecutors understand that our system of justice requires a dynamic where individuals are able to have the effective assistance of counsel necessary to adequately defend themselves,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat who plans to introduce the bill with Republican Doug Collins of Georgia, told the newspaper.

Email, he noted, “is the most efficient way for an attorney to communicate with an incarcerated client.” And, while prison officials say they do not now have a system to separate attorney-client missives from other email, such a system could be developed.

“We live in an era where there’s been tremendous innovation that has taken place across every spectrum of our economy,” Jeffries said. “It seems to me that we have the ability to develop a system where attorney-client communication can be segregated out.”

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Defense lawyers say feds’ refusal to screen inmate-attorney email frustrates right to counsel”

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