Criminal Defense: Understanding Spousal Privilege

If you or your spouse is currently facing a criminal charge, you likely have a multitude of questions. One common question among married defendants is that of spousal privilege and whether it applies to their case. Read on below to learn more about spousal privilege and what it may mean for your case.

What Is Spousal Privilege?

Spousal privilege, also known as spousal immunity, is an exception which allows for the spouse of a defendant to refuse to testify against their spouse. The basis of this privilege is that married couples are one legal entity. Just as you cannot be compelled to testify against yourself, a spouse cannot be compelled to testify against their other half.

Are There Exceptions To The Privilege?

Spousal privilege is in place as a way to protect the relationship between spouses. However, there are a number of exceptions to this privilege.

One common exception to the privilege is if the defendant is being charged for a crime against the other spouse. This means that neither the defendant nor the victim can claim spousal privilege, and the victim can be compelled to testify against their spouse. Another exception is if the spouse is asked to testify regarding pre-married life, or if the couple is now legally divorced.

What About Confidential Communications?

In the majority of cases, confidential communications fall under spousal privilege. A common issue regarding communications, however, is how one defines confidential.

In the eyes of most jurisdictions, a confidential communication is a communication that occurs between only two parties: the defendant spouse and the witness spouse. In the majority of cases, the presence of a third party will mean that the communication is not confidential, and so will confiding in another after the communication has occurred (so, telling your friend about a confidential communication between you and your spouse makes the communication no longer confidential). The jurisdiction in which the trial is being held will determine a number of things, including the definition of confidential, so it's important to discuss such terms with your criminal defense attorney.

What This Could Mean For Your Criminal Case

If you're facing a criminal trial, you may be wondering what role spousal privilege will play in your case. This will depend on a number of things, including what charge is being brought against you and how your jurisdiction interprets spousal privilege.

The absolute best thing you can do to better understand how spousal privilege will play a role in your trial is to speak with a criminal defense attorney who has experience in your specific jurisdiction. A knowledgeable attorney can help to clear up a number of misunderstandings, and they can also ensure that your rights as a spouse are being upheld throughout your trial.

For more information, talk to a lawyer at a law firm such as Vandeventer Black LLP.