Providing Incarcerated Defendant with Opportunity to Review Discovery Materials
Opinion rules that if, after providing an incarcerated criminal client with a summary/explanation of the discovery materials in the client’s file, the client requests access to any of the discovery materials, the lawyer must afford the client the opportunity to meaningfully review relevant discovery materials unless certain conditions exist.
Lawyer represents Defendant in a criminal case. The state has provided Lawyer with discovery as PDF files. The state has also given Lawyer DVDs containing copies of the video recordings of interrogations of Defendant and a codefendant; surveillance videotapes; and audio recordings of calls made by Defendant and the codefendant from the jail.
Lawyer reviewed the discovery and provided Defendant with a summary of the evidence. Defendant demands that he be provided a copy of the entire 1,200 pages of discovery and be allowed to view/listen to the 17 hours of video and audio recordings.
Does Lawyer have an ethical duty to comply with the client’s demand?
As a matter of professional responsibility, Rule 1.4 requires a lawyer to “keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter” and “promptly comply with reasonable requests for information.” As stated in comment  to Rule 1.4:
The client should have sufficient information to participate intelligently in decisions concerning the objectives of the representation and the means by which they are to be pursued...The guiding principle is that the lawyer should fulfill reasonable client expectations for information consistent with the duty to act in the client's best interests, and the client's overall requirements as to the character of representation.
The duties set out in Rule 1.4 are similar to those found in ABA Standards for Criminal Justice, Defense Functions, Standard 4-3.8 (3d ed. 1993) which provides:
(a) Defense counsel should keep the client informed of the developments in the case and the progress of preparing the defense and should promptly comply with reasonable requests for information.
(b) Defense counsel should explain developments in the case to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.
Under Rule 1.2(a)(1), the client in a criminal case has the authority to decide, “after consultation with the lawyer, as to a plea to be entered, whether to waive a jury trial, and whether the client will testify.” During the course of the representation, a criminal defense lawyer complies with the requirements of Rule 1.4 to keep a client “reasonably informed” by providing the client with sufficient information to make informed decisions about these important issues. This obligation is fulfilled by providing the client with a summary of the discovery materials and consulting with the client as to the relevance of the materials to the client’s case. If the lawyer has provided the client with a summary/explanation of the discovery materials and the client, nonetheless, requests copies of or asks to review any of the file materials, the duty to comply with reasonable requests for information requires the lawyer to afford the client the opportunity to meaningfully review relevant discovery material unless one or more of the following conditions exist: (1) the lawyer believes it is in the best interest of the client’s legal defense to deny the request; (2) a protective order or court rule limiting the discovery materials that may be shown to the defendant or taken to a jail or prison is in effect; (3) such review is prohibited by the specific terms of a discovery agreement1 between the prosecution and the defense lawyer; (4) because of circumstances beyond the defense counsel’s control, such review is not feasible in light of the volume of discovery materials and the time remaining before trial or before a decision must be made by the client on a plea offer; or (5) disclosure of the discovery materials will endanger the safety or welfare of the client or others.
In determining what discovery materials are relevant, and what disclosure is in the best interest of the client’s legal defense, the lawyer must exercise his or her independent professional judgment in the context of the decisions that the defendant must make about what plea to enter, whether to waive jury trial, and whether to testify. See Rule 1.2(a)(1). As noted above: “The guiding principle is that the lawyer should fulfill reasonable client expectations for information consistent with the duty to act in the client's best interests, and the client's overall requirements as to the character of representation.” Rule 1.4, cmt. . However, as stated in comment  to Rule 1.4, a lawyer “may not withhold information to serve the lawyer’s own interest or convenience or the interest or convenience of another person.” Therefore, the lawyer may not deny the request due to issues of expense or inconvenience.
Regardless of whether the lawyer determines that the client should have an opportunity to review some or all of the discovery materials, the lawyer is not required to provide the client with a physical copy of the discovery materials during the course of the representation.
If Lawyer provides Defendant with a copy of, or access to, discovery materials, may Lawyer redact or otherwise remove private information of a third person, such as the address of a witness or pictures of an alleged rape victim?
The lawyer may redact or otherwise remove information that the lawyer determines, in his professional judgment, should not be disclosed to the client, including information that would endanger the safety and welfare of the client or is subject to a protective order, court rule, or agreement prohibiting disclosure. See Rule 1.4, cmt. .