High Court Strenghtens Right Of Attorney-Client Privilege

Nov 21, 2014

The Iowa Supreme Court agrees the legal rights of a man arrested for drunk driving were violated when the arresting officer failed to fully explain attorney-client privilege.

  David Hellstern, a family-law attorney, was arrested under suspicion of drunk driving in March 2013. At the Polk County jail, he requested privacy during a phone call with his attorney. 

According to court documents, the arresting officer replied, “You can. But...not on the phone."

The officer did not further explain that attorney-client privilege only applies if the attorney is physically present, and that Hellstern could have privacy only if his attorney were to come to the jail.

After the phone call, Hellstern consented to a breathalyzer test.  It showed his blood alcohol level to be 0.194 percent; more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

The breathalyzer evidence was presented at trial, and Hellstern was convicted of an OWI.

Hellstern appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court, arguing the breathalyzer results should not be used as evidence since the officer didn't fully explain attorney-client privilege.

The Supreme Court agrees.

Writing for the majority, Justice Thomas Waterman alludes to the fact Hellstern may have a "sophisticated" knowledge of his legal rights as he is a practicing attorney, this fact does not matter when informing an individual of their rights.

"We prefer the clarity of bright-line rules in time-sensitive interactions between citizens and law enforcement, such as during informed-consent procedures," writes Cady. 

Hellstern will receive a new trial, and the breathalyzer results can't be used as evidence.