(TV - 1987) Based on a true story, a well-respected lawyer, Sam Fischetti (Coyote), is reluctantly assigned  by the courts to defend Vincent Cauley (Neeson), a man accused of the brutul murder of a local girl in a quiet Pennsylvania community. Sam's best friend, Martin Costigan, a hard-boiled but "boozy" criminal lawyer, assists him in the defense. The more the two men learn about their client, the less comfortable they feel coming to his defense. Before the trial, they eventually discover that not only is their client guilty of the crime, he is also responsible for the unsolved murders of  two other young girls.

The lawyers face an ethical dilemma questioning the laws of confidentiality. Pitted against a community that demands vengeance, the two must wrestle with their consciences: Should this privileged information be disclosed to the families of the victims and the authorities, or should the lawyers maintain the suspect's confidence according to the legal principles they have sworn to uphold? The resulting trial and evidence threaten to tear the town apart and jeopardize the careers of both men.



  • Peter Coyote..............................Sam Fischetti

  • Dabney Coleman.................Martin Costigan

  • Liam Neeson...........................Vincent Cauley

  • Caroline McWilliams.......Maureen Fischetti

  • Ed Nelson.................................Victor Handler

  • David Spielberg....................Aaron Goodman

  • Mavor Moore.........................Judge Bingham



  • Directed by.....................................Peter Levin

  • Screenplay by.......................Robert L Joseph, from the novel Privileged Information by Tom Alibrandi & Frank H. Armani.

  • Cinematography by.....................Frank Watts

  • Music by.............................Dennis McCarthy

  • Running time: 98 minuts

  • Premiered April 6, 1987 on ABC




USA Today:
"Both challenging and provocative, Sworn to Silence does something quite unique for a TV movie. Lo and behold, it forces you to think... Peter Coyote, an intense, gifted actor, plays a respected pillar in his Pennsylvania community who is then reviled for defending a murderer... Sworn to Silence features exceptionally fine acting on the part of Coyote and Coleman. The rapport between Fischetti and Costigan who face adversity as 'two lawyers naive enough to follow the law,' is so naturally adult and collegial that their relationship forms the heart of the movie... The film not only features excellent performances but explores the complicated territory. Your sympathies, of course, are rooted with the sympathetic hero. But by shades and degrees, you cannot help but question his decision to stand by the canon of ethics to which he is sworn. Thus, Sworn to Silence becomes a fascinating, layered study of right and wrong, and of the tug between personal emotion and professional cool."

"Peter Coyote, a quiet, likable actor, plays Sam Fischetti, a respected lawyer who honors the rules and reveres the law... A suspenseful show with a fine cast."

Albany Times Union:
"Peter Coyote, a Sam Waterston lookalike, plays the Armani character, with Dabney Coleman as an alcoholic criminal lawyer who assists him on the case. There is a nice chemistry between the two, the older, more experienced man helping Fischetti with the criminal law in the case. Liam Neeson plays the psychotic killer, and with the proper amount of sleaze and creepiness, too... Writer Robert L. Joseph has set up a good, well-paced drama, pitting the well-meaning, moral, oath-upholding lawyer against his middle class community, with the alcoholic and the psycho thrown in for diversion."

Houston Chronicle:
"This is a well-crafted, well-acted drama, and it does make a point - that the legal system, if it is to work, must protect sinners as well as saints.

Leonard Maltin:
"A lawyer's privileged information versus the public's right to know is explored in this provocative but flawed drama, with Coyote as a troubled defense attorney and Coleman, in an Emmy-winning performance, as his burned-out, boozing colleague."

Lexington Herald Leader:
"There has to be something about playing a lawyer that appeals to Peter Coyote. After making a strong impression as the prosecutor who opposed Glenn Close in the 1985 movie hit Jagged Edge, he again steps into the courtroom - but on the other side of the defense this time... Though the highly opinionated Coyote has done considerably less television than movies, he has become more admiring of TV's impact."

Radio Times:

"This thought-provoking TV movie benefits from the sure hand of veteran director Peter Levin and an outstanding cast that includes Peter Coyote and Dabney Coleman, with Liam Neeson in an uncharacteristic role as a sadistic killer... The issues of lawyer/client confidentiality and 'privileged information' are explored with balanced integrity and absorbing emotional tension. Courtroom thriller buffs and viewers of quality television will add this to their list of favorites."



"Both Dabney and I made our decision to work contingent on each other. I figured if they hired him, it would be a good show. He's just a brilliant actor... You're going to see real friendship here. It was a good script. And it was a script talking about something I thought worth talking about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights...

This is about a worm of a man whose rights are still protected by the Constitution.. It's not easy for anybody involved. But remember, as our founding fathers knew so well, the state has unlimited resources, and the individual's rights must be protected.

It's about a real human crisis. Here's a man caught between his instincts for decency - tell the children's parents - and his sworn oath to his client and the Constitution to provide the best defense possible - I want you to see what this man felt... He's a happy, easy-going, nice guy, with a nice, small-town law practice that he's having fun with. Then this dilemma is pushed unwillingly onto him and it absolutely tears his life apart.

I was interested in this because of the cross it puts a man in, between his instincts to be compassionate, and his belief in his sworn oath and the importance of the American Constitution. I got involved with the project because our newspapers are reporting that some of the highest officials of the land are transgressing the law. When the attorney general of the United States is saying that the Constitution is not necessarily the highest law in the land, I think it's important that we remind people of that issue.

My initial reaction was that humanity demands disclosure to the parents of the victims, but thinking about it made me realize that our whole system of justice is based on protecting the individual from the awesome power of the state. If a venal and corrupt person is not protected under the law, an innocent person won't be protected either. We have to be protected from our instincts to trample on the law when we don't agree with it.

The law gives the same shelter to a venal worm as it does to an average citizen. And you can't really say we'll give aid and comfort to this guy, and not to that guy, or you have Chile. I love the quality of this script. There's a great line in the script - 'The law does not protect us from heartache.' It's true. It's not nice. It might not be compassionate in the long run. But it's the way our legal system works. It's the kind of film that can change people's thinking, to instill in them a sense of price that they live in a country that operates that way.

Sworn to Silence is excellent. To me, excellence itself is a radical statement, because it employs care about particulars, it employs restraint, elegance and a high order of mind. I see Sworn to Silence as almost a personal ethical statement. It comes down to the basic tenet of what it means to be an American. If we choose to throw out our Constitution and Bill of Rights because it gives us a hard time sometimes, that's like canceling our commitment to our nation and to ourselves."   ...Peter Coyote

Did you know?

  • Perhaps to avoid a libel suit, the names and circumstances were changed. The Armani character is named Fischetti and Garrow is called Cauley and, most importantly, the movie is set in Pennsylvania, not the Adirondacks where the murders actually took place back in the early '70s.

  • Dabney Coleman won an Emmy for his performance.

  • Available on DVD

[ The Official Peter Coyote Web Site ]