What if a Lawyer Knew His Client Was Going to Shoot Up a Theater?
by Bruce H. Stanger
There has been some speculation and facts about what Colorado shooter James Holmes’ university or therapist may have known before the shooting, as well as what duty they had to take action.
In the example of a lawyer/client relationship, clients know that what they tell their lawyer is privileged and private. The lawyer is not permitted to share that information with others. Even if a client gives the details of a terrible crime that the client committed the lawyer is not permitted to tell anyone. But, what if the information that the client shares with the lawyer involves future conduct? For example, the client tells the lawyer he is going to cause substantial harm to himself or to someone else.
If a lawyer reasonably believes his or her client is going to cause substantial injury to anyone, the lawyer must take reasonable steps to prevent that harm. It could mean telling the police, the client’s family members or doctor about a potential crime if the lawyer reasonably believes that the client is likely to hurt him or herself, or someone else.
The penalty for not speaking up is not criminal – it is that the lawyer could be reprimanded or disbarred by the courts in Connecticut. Should society create a duty for a professional to come forward?