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The state’s highest court Monday ruled that prosecutors may scour the e-mails of defendants, but also supported safeguards designed to protect the privacy privilege long granted lawyers and their clients.
The Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling, a victory for Attorney General Martha Coakley, upheld the right of state prosecutors to search the e-mail of a Brookline doctor after he was indicted in 2011 on charges of defrauding Medicaid of millions of dollars.
“This ruling upholds the investigatory power of our office to examine e-mails for evidence of criminal conduct while using a court-approved process to sort out any e-mails that may involve attorney-client communication,” said Brad Puffer, spokesman for Coakley.
But some lawyers voiced concerns that if the protocols laid out by the courts are not followed precisely, access to a defendant’s e-mail could disturb the delicate balance between a prosecutor’s responsibility to conduct a thorough criminal investigation and a defendant’s constitutional rights.