The Alcoholics Annonymous (and similar Narcotics Annonymous) recovery process requires you to be open and honest about your past and to admit wrongs you made while under the influence. But are these confessions legally protected like those made to priests? The answer is complicated. Here’s what a Vista criminal attorney believes you should know before completely unburdening yourself at an AA or NA meeting.
The problem is that AA is sometimes considered a religious organization offered religious protections when it comes to confessions at meetings, but sometimes it is not. Even Alcoholics Anonymous sends conflicting messages about whether or not they should be protected, with the website stating that it is not a religion or or affiliated with any religious organization, while spokespeople have defined AA as a “spiritual organization.”
In 2015, a murder verdict against a man who confessed in Alcoholic’s Anonymous was overturned by a District appeals judge in New York, who ruled that AA is a constitutionally protected religious activity. For the time being, this is a strong legal precedent for lawyers in Vista defending clients in similar circumstances, but until a case is brought before the Supreme Court, the decisions will not be legally binding in courts outside that district.
If you confess at an AA meeting to unsolved crimes, you always run the risk another attendee will use the information to tip the police. The police may always claim the information is from an anonymous source, so you could run the risk it would never be revealed the information came from an AA meeting and be unable to fight the source of the tip.
The bottom line is that most Vista criminal lawyers will advise you to avoid making confessions in any kind of anonymous treatment groups as anonymity is not the same as a legally protected space. While the religious/spiritual aspect of these groups may lend credence to the protections of confessions made in Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous and other organizations, it’s important to remember that the other members are not religious leaders and may not want to keep your secrets -especially if it concerns something like murder, rape or child molestation.
Conversations made between a lawyer and a client are unarguably protected, so if you want to unburden yourself, you can tell your attorney in Vista. On the other hand, it is worth knowing that a lawyer cannot knowingly offer false information in court, so if you tell your lawyer that you murdered someone and the case goes to court, he or she cannot argue that there is no way you killed that person.
If you have any questions about the limits of attorney/client confidentiality or about confessions made in AA, Peter M. Liss can help. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation.
Creative Commons Image by Lucia Sanchez