Should I Tell My Criminal Lawyer I’m Guilty? And Other FAQs

man in handcuffs covering face

From my many years of handling criminal matters, I’ve noticed that some accused persons struggle with the trust they can place in the lawyers that they’ve engaged.

There are instances where the accused has not been completely truthful or certain information is being kept from the lawyer. I find this unfortunate because these acts of mistrust affect the ability of the lawyer to act for him or her and may impact the outcome of the case.

Therefore, I have prepared this article as to why you should be truthful to your lawyer and arm him or her with all the facts relevant to your case, even if you did commit the acts in question. I hope to assuage your doubts and reassure you that the lawyers you engage will act in your best interests while also upholding their duty to the court.

This article will cover:

What Should You Tell Your Criminal Lawyer After You have Hired One?

You should inform your lawyer of all the relevant facts related to your criminal charge. This can include:

  • A timeline of events leading to the offence that you have been charged with;
  • The surrounding circumstances and context connected with your criminal charge; and
  • Your thoughts and feelings at the time of the offence.

At this point, you may be wondering whether you can trust your lawyer with all the above information. Let me assure you that lawyers in Singapore are legally bound to serve their clients with diligence and competence, and act in their clients’ best interests.

For a lawyer to properly discharge these duties in relation to a criminal case, the lawyer needs to be equipped with the complete set of facts relevant to the criminal charge. The more complete the facts, the higher the likelihood that the lawyer may build a credible case for the accused.

If you have been charged with an offence, I understand that you may be under a lot of stress and may not remember every detail on your own. Do not worry too much about this.

During your consultation with your lawyer, he or she will likely go through the facts with you and jog your memory to fill in any gaps. Just remember to be honest and open during this process. Your lawyer needs to ensure the facts are complete and logical to make your case in court.

Can You Tell Your Lawyer Everything?

Yes, you can tell your lawyer everything related to your case. This includes the truth of what happened during the incident. If you still harbour some mistrust in your lawyer, let me assure you that your lawyer is also legally bound by a duty of confidentiality and that the facts you provide are protected by legal professional privilege. Allow me to explain what these mean.

Besides the duties of diligence, competence, and acting in your best interests, a lawyer in Singapore also has a duty of confidentiality. This duty requires lawyers to not disclose any information acquired during their course of work. However, there are certain specific exceptions to this duty, such as:

  • When you allow your lawyer to disclose the information.
  • A law or the court requires your lawyer to disclose the information.
  • When your lawyer is seeking advice on his legal and ethical obligations. This could occur if your lawyer needs to obtain advice from the Law Society of Singapore on the legal and ethical issues arising from your case, and has to disclose information about your case to receive accurate advice.
  • When there is an insurance claim against your lawyer’s firm. Your lawyer may need to reveal information to the insurance company to respond to a claim against your lawyer or his or her firm.
  • When your lawyer is responding to a charge of misconduct. Your lawyer may need to reveal information on your case to defend against a complaint made against him or her. Typically, this disclosure is directed towards the various disciplinary bodies of the Law Society of Singapore, or to the court.

Do not be too worried about these exceptions. The circumstances in which these exceptions arise are rare. Further, the disclosure can only be done to limited persons, such as the relevant insurance company, the Law Society of Singapore, or the court.

On top of this duty of confidentiality, there is also legal professional privilege to protect the information you provide your lawyer. Legal professional privilege allows your lawyer to withhold disclosing any information or documents obtained during his or her course of work unless permitted by you.

This means that the facts you have disclosed to your lawyer cannot be shared with the prosecution, and cannot be used as evidence against you. This covers both the communication between you and your lawyer when you are seeking legal advice and any communication with your lawyer when preparing for trial.

Together, your lawyer’s duty of confidentiality and legal professional privilege work to ensure that what you have told your lawyer stays between the both of you. Only in rare circumstances can your lawyer disclose what you have told him, and to only certain people.

Why is It Important to be Honest with Your Lawyer and the Court?

Being honest and open with your lawyer and the court ultimately helps you get the best possible outcome for your case.

As noted earlier, being honest and open with your lawyer helps the lawyer have a more complete picture of the events and circumstances surrounding the criminal charge. This helps the lawyer build a credible case for you. It also protects you from any blind spots in your case. Having a more complete picture of the relevant facts can help your lawyer prepare a defence and respond to any queries or doubts raised by the prosecution. This may add credibility to your case in the eyes of the court.

Further, if a client refuses to be open and honest with their lawyer, the lawyer may also discharge the client and request that the client finds another lawyer to represent him. However, this is usually done as a last resort. For clients that remain reticent, lawyers will usually try their best to convince them of the merits of openness and honesty.

As an experienced lawyer, I appreciate a client that can be truthful with me. It allows me to perform my duties to the client to the fullest as I work on helping them get the best possible outcome for their case.

If You’ve Admitted to Your Lawyer that You Committed the Act, Can the Lawyer Still Help You Obtain an Acquittal?

No, a lawyer may not help you seek an acquittal if you have admitted your guilt to the lawyer. This is because a lawyer, as an officer of the court, also has a concurrent duty to the court to assist in the administration of justice.

Amongst the many duties a lawyer has to the court is the duty not to mislead the court. Therefore, where a client has confessed his guilt to the lawyer, the lawyer cannot submit any evidence to the court that is false or inconsistent with the client’s confession.

However, even if you are guilty of an offence, a criminal lawyer can help to make a case for mitigation on your behalf. A case for mitigation is one where the accused has admitted his guilt but is pleading for a lighter sentence based on the particular circumstances of his or her case.

If this is your situation, a lawyer can convince the court to attach importance to certain facts that may help reduce your sentence. Alternatively, the court may also appreciate your honesty as a form of remorse on your part. This may increase the chances of receiving a lighter sentence. Therefore, even when you have in fact committed the act, it is still important for you to be truthful about this with your lawyer to help them make a case for mitigation on your behalf.

If you have been charged with a crime, I hope that I have convinced you to always be honest and open with your lawyer, regardless of what you may have done. If you are innocent, your frankness can help your lawyer build a credible defence and prepare him or her for any doubts or queries raised by the prosecution.

If however, you have committed the acts constituting the offence, your lawyer cannot present evidence to the court that is contrary to your confession. Nevertheless, being forthcoming can help the lawyer find certain facts that may convince the court to reduce your culpability or your sentence.

I have handled many criminal matters as a lawyer with 13 years of experience and counting. My firm, IRB Law LLP, is a full-service law firm that counts criminal defence amongst its many practice areas. It has a seasoned criminal defence team that can help you navigate your criminal case. Do not hesitate to contact me if you have any queries.