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Communications made in confidence by a client to his attorney are protected by the attorney-client privilege. It is the substance of the communications which is protected, not the fact that there have been communications. Excluded from the privilege are physical characteristics of the client, such as his complexion, his demeanor, his bearing, his sobriety and his dress. Such things are observable by anyone who talks with the client, and there is nothing, in the usual case, to suggest that the client intends his attorney's observations of such matters to be confidential. The privilege protects only the client's confidences, not things which, at the time, are not intended to be held in the breast of the lawyer, even though the attorney-client relation provided the occasion for the lawyer's observation of them.
Eight years before his trial, petitioner Leroy Kendrick was adjudicated insane and he alleged that 17 months before trial he lost his memory as the result of an automobile accident. Petitioner sought vacation of his sentence under 28 U.S.C.S. § 2255, contending that he was incompetent to stand trial due to insanity and amnesia. He claimed that he only regained memory when treated while serving the sentence he sought to vacate. In the district court, a law enforcement agent who had reviewed the inmate's penitentiary medical file was permitted to state its contents and the inmate's trial counsel gave his observations of the inmate's demeanor. The district court then denied relief, finding that the medical file of the petitioner reflected no mental disorder. Petitioner appealed.
Did the district court err in denying petitioner’s motion to vacate his sentence under 28 U.S.C.S. § 2255?
The court vacated the judgment, which denied the inmate relief, and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court held that the file did not support the conclusion that the inmate suffered no mental disorder. The diagnostician's qualifications, the extent of the examination of the inmate, or the facts on which the diagnosis was based were not reflected in the file and, without expert psychiatric opinion, laymen could draw no inferences. According to the court, expert opinion that the inmate was competent before the wreck was not relevant to his later competence to stand trial. Moreover, the admission of trial counsel's observations did not violate the attorney-client privilege as they related to objectively observable matters which were not within the privilege and which the attorney and client had no reason to believe were confidential.