Jailhouse conversations have been many a defendant's downfall through incriminating words spoken to inmates or visitors, but inmates calls to or from lawyers are generally exempt from such monitoring. Across the U.S., reports the New York Times, federal prosecutors have begun reading prisoners' emails to lawyers. In Brooklyn, prosecutors have said they intend to read such emails in almost every case. The issue has led to court battles over whether inmates have a right to confidential email communications with their lawyers. Federal judges are divided.
“It's very troubling that the government's pushing to the margins of the attorney-client relationship,” said Ellen Yaroshefsky, a professor at the Cardozo School of Law. Defense lawyers say the government is overstepping its authority and taking away a necessary tool for an adequate defense. Some of them have refused to admit even the existence of sensitive emails — which, they say, perhaps predictably, are privileged. Defendants using the federal prison email system, Trulincs, must accept a notice that communications are monitored, prosecutors in Brooklyn noted. Prosecutors once had a “filter team” to set aside defendants' emails to and from lawyers, but budget cuts no longer allow for that. Prosecutors say there are other ways for defense lawyers to communicate with clients. Defense lawyers say those are absurdly inefficient.