Before confessing anything, I would say to the clergy, doctor or attorney, “As a purely hypothetical question, and I am not saying that I have ever done anything wrong, but just out of idle curiosity, if I told you about a serious crime I committed in the past, will you swear to not tell others about it? No matter how reprehensible you may view my conduct, will you promise:
- To take it to the grave?
- To go to jail yourself before you talk?
- Not tell the police, your spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, office assistant?
- Not tell your own clergy or therapist?
- Not write down or otherwise non-verbally communicate anything about it?”
Not to be arrogant, but I believe the only professional relationship that can consistently answer “yes” to all five questions above, is attorney/client. Somewhere along the road of client representation an attorney hears many, many statements that clients ask to be kept confidential. Usually they’re personal in nature, not criminal or manifestly illegal. If you’re a good attorney, you’re good at keeping a multitude of private conversations to yourself and never share with fellow attorneys or friends. It just goes with the territory.
Finally, it is important to understand what makes a situation truly confidential. No one else may be present but you and the professional. Never do it on the telephone. The privilege works only for prior acts. If you tell me that you robbed the First National Bank yesterday; your secret is safe. If you tell me that you are going to rob it tomorrow, I am going to call the police. I may be your confidant, but you may not make me your involuntary accomplice.