Question: Should one be unconditionally honest with their lawyer whenever one is being charged with a crime ? In particular what is the correct response when the lawyer asks "Did you do it ?"
Should one be unconditionally honest with their lawyer whenever one is being charged with a crime ?
Yes. Otherwise, the defendant risks doing one or more of the following:
(1) hinder the litigation strategy his lawyer devised;
(2) increase the likelihood of inconsistencies that can only hurt the defendant's credibility on factors relevant to the sentencing guidelines; and/or
(3) prompt the lawyer to withdraw once the truth is unveiled (whether the withdrawal is on grounds of wasted effort or on moral grounds), which further complicates the defendant's position.
To your second question, the answer is THE TRUTH. If you did it, tell your lawyer this. If you didn't do it, tell your lawyer this. Never lie to your lawyer because it will backfire on you.
Keep in mind, this is the entire reason for Attorney Client Privilege - So that no matter what you say to your lawyer, you are not legally confessing to a crime and a strategy can be discussed. For example, lets say Alice is arrested for murdering Bob.
Suppose in our First Scenario, Alice did not murder Bob, but the only evidence to this fact is a Statement Against Interest. Alice was at the scene of the crime to rob Bob of money, which she did do, but that was a day before the murder OR Alice's DNA was in Bob's bed room (the murder scene) because she was having an affair with Bob's wife. These would be very bad things to confess to for various reasons (not all of them legal... some facts you just don't want to have come out to the public). If Alice lies about this, it put's her defense in jeopardy because the Lawyer cannot pursue a real avenue of defense and can't get a better deal for Alice (for the former alibi, the lighter nature of the crime compared to murder may result in some sort of plea deal that Alice will testify to this in exchange for immunity or a lesser sentence for robbery for helping the case. For the later, it will allow the lawyer to focus how he does his direct or indirect examination of Bob's Wife).
In a second scenario, Alice did indeed intend to kill Bob during the robbery, but he was dead when Alice got there by a gunshot, and she fled. Additionally, Alice doesn't use guns, she kills with knives. If she lies about this, the investigative time line will not be revised to include an earlier time of death and thus eliminate Alice from suspicion of murder (Robbery will likely be given some sort of deal with the prosecution, provided she help testify to the case). Additionally Justice is not served by convicting Alice for Bob's Murder because the real killer got away with the crime. Alice's Lawyer would once again be unable to mount a defense for her case (such as the fact that Alice has Bob's property and her DNA was found at the crime scene are not evidence of Murder, they are Evidence of Robbery. Alice doesn't own a gun (the Murder Weapon) which would likely rule her out as someone capable of a murder by gun. It's important to note that the defense need not provide a link to the real killer, only that the links the prosecution will provide to the jury don't point to murder). Without proper defense, even if it involves something that Alice would want to lie about, Alice will likely go to jail, which means the real killer is still on the loose. Society is no safer from the killer as a result and the killer got away with the crime, which is the opposite of justice.
With few exceptions, a Lawyer may never reveal a client's communications is a rule that is by design, enabling a client to discuss their side of the story without any fear of reprisal from society (be it legal reprisals or societal reprisals). For those who are guilty, it allows the Lawyer to offer his suggestions about how to handle the case and get the best possible sentance for his client (that's why he makes the money) and more importantly, for the innocent, it allows the Lawyer to mount a defense that would allow the clients best possible interests to be protected (while we assume in the totally innocent under the law of Alice being the lover of Bob's Wife that this may require Alice to testify that she was participant to the affair, which could have negative complications on Alice, it's still not going to jail for a murder she did not commit AND a good lawyer may be able to do this in a way that could show Alice was innocent but not out her to the general public.