What Are the Spousal Immunity and Marital Communication Privileges?

Is it true that your spouse cannot testify against you in court?  Spousal immunity and the marital communications privilege are familiar to many, but most people do not fully understand how they work.  If your spouse has been charged with a crime, it is important you understand the scope of your rights as a spouse before speaking with law enforcement.

What is the Marital Communications Privilege?

In general, most evidence that is relevant to a case may be admitted in court so long as it is not hearsay and has not been gathered in violation of the accused’s constitutional rights.  The law recognizes that some types of relevant evidence should be inadmissible for public policy reasons. Included in this category are communications made in confidence between marital partners during the course of their marriage and in reliance upon the sanctity of marriage.  This privilege continues indefinitely, meaning that even if a couple gets divorced, they still cannot testify as to marital communications from their former spouse.

What is Spousal Immunity?

Spousal immunity is a different sort of privilege than marital communications.  With spousal immunity, a married person cannot be compelled to testify against their spouse in any criminal proceeding, regardless of whether or not the defendant is their spouse.  Unlike with marital communications, spouses can waive the spousal immunity privilege and testify against their spouse in court regarding events which occurred before or during the marriage.  Spousal immunity is further unlike the marital communications privilege in that the privilege no longer exists after a divorce.

Because this privilege can be waived, oftentimes spouses can feel pressured by law enforcement who tell them to “do the right thing” by divulging private confidences.  It is important that spouses know that they are under no obligation to divulge their private marital conversations to law enforcement. If law enforcement do pressure a spouse to divulge this information, that spouse should contact an attorney immediately rather than risk accidentally jeopardizing their loved one’s case.

If Your Spouse is Accused of a Crime, What Should You Discuss With Them?

First, it is important your spouse be represented by a skilled criminal defense attorney.  This attorney can advise you and your accused spouse on what to expect from law enforcement and the court process, and can also discuss any concerns you may have about whether you can be compelled to testify against your spouse in court.  Spouses of those charged with crimes often feel torn between wanting to support their accused spouse and the societal expectation that they should cooperate to the fullest extent with law enforcement by divulging private marital information.  You, your accused spouse, and their attorney should clearly communicate regarding any events or conversations law enforcement or the prosecution could try to twist against your spouse and expectations on whether that information should be kept confidential.

What Should You Do if Your Spouse is Charged With a Crime?

When your spouse is charged with a crime, it can put a significant strain on your marriage and lead to confusion about how to best respect the legal process while supporting them.  The attorneys at Arizona Lawyers can help you and your spouse navigate this process.  Contact the Arizona Lawyers today to learn about your options.