The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > General Questions

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 11-05-2011, 10:37 PM
spunkymuzicnote spunkymuzicnote is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2011
Can spouses testify against each other in court?

While I know not to believe everything you see on TV, some late night watching of Law and Order led me to wonder. Between the knitting and the conversation I didn't catch all of it, but it seemed to me that on the show a wife wanted to testify against her husband, who had only married her to steal her money, but couldn't because they were married. In the end it was discovered that the man was also married to another woman who was running the same scheme with someone else, so the wife could testify since their marriage wasn't valid. But what I don't understand is why she couldn't testify in the first place. If, for example, my husband committed a murder and then confessed to me, would I not be able to report him? What if I caught him in the act? Would I be able to testify? Previously I thought the law was that spouses couldn't be required to testify, but could do so if they chose. So who's right, Law and Order or my vague recollection from high school history class? And if Law and Order is right, then why can't spouses choose to testify against each other?
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 11-05-2011, 11:31 PM
Gary Robson Gary Robson is offline
Charter Member
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Location: Montana, U.S.A.
Posts: 9,447
I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that spouses cannot be compelled to testify against each other. If a husband is charged with spousal abuse, his wife can certainly choose to get on the stand and testify against him.

Last edited by Gary Robson; 11-05-2011 at 11:32 PM.. Reason: Missed a word.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 11-05-2011, 11:40 PM
zombywoof zombywoof is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2009
IANAL, but according to this article it seems there are situations in which someone can prevent their spouse from testifying against them about "confidential communications made during marriage".
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 11-06-2011, 12:08 AM
Snnipe 70E Snnipe 70E is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2008
If I remember from classes years ago it depends on the state.

I havw wondered about New Your?
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 11-06-2011, 12:13 AM
pravnik pravnik is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2002
Location: TX
Posts: 13,378
Speaking very broadly, there are two separate priviliges regarding spouses: one involves spousal immunity from testifying, and the other involves confidential communications made during marriage.

To reuse an example, say a husband comes home covered in blood after a gruesome murder occurs, a murder for which he is later indicted. The wife sees him all bloody. The prosecutor wants to put her on the stand to testify about what she saw. Under the spousal immunity privilege, she cannot be forced to testify if she doesn't want to, because you cannot be compelled to testify against your spouse. However, the majority rule is that the testifying spouse is the holder of the privilege, not the defendant spouse. In other words, she can testify if she wants to, but can't be compelled to against her will. Also, the privilege does not apply after the marriage, only during.

Let's also say that on that night she asked about the blood, and the husband responds "well, don't tell anyone, but I've been stabbing this guy. Could you fetch my liniment for my stabber's elbow?" This would be protected by the confidential communications privilege, which acts a lot like the attorney-client privilege. The majority rule is that both spouses hold this privilege, not just the testifying spouse, meaning the defendant can prevent the spouse-witness from ever divulging what she was told in confidence during the marriage. Even if they are later divorced, she cannot testify as to what she was told in confidence, although she can testify about the bloodstains she saw if she wants to.

An important exception: if the case is one that involves a crime that is "destructive of the family unit", like spousal abuse or child abuse, spousal privileges don't apply. Since the rationale of the privileges is preservation of the marriage/family unit, applying the privileges in those cases would defeat their purposes.

Last edited by pravnik; 11-06-2011 at 12:17 AM..
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 11-06-2011, 12:27 AM
Hirka T'Bawa Hirka T'Bawa is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Conyers, GA, USA
Posts: 1,327
To simplify what pravnik said, and what I've always heard, a spouse can't be forced to testify, but if they want to, they can only testify about what they saw, not what they heard.

So, tell your spouse, you're safe... Show your spouse, you better not piss her off!
Reply With Quote
Reply



Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 03:35 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.