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  #1  
Old 10-26-2016, 02:36 PM
FlikTheBlue is offline
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Is there any legal prohibition against a priest revealing a confession?


Inspired by the thread on whether or not the truth should ever be censored. Let's say someone confesses to a priest that he murdered someone. Let's say this priest then reports the confession to the police. What would happen at that point? Is the priest's testimony admissible in court? Are there any legal consequences similar to a physician breaking physician-patient confidentiality or to a lawyer breaking attorney-client privilege? I understand any such priest would be automatically excommunicated from the Church, it's the legality that I'm wondering about.
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Old 10-26-2016, 02:55 PM
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It would be hearsay, so would not be admitted into evidence in any case. But befre the trial, any information imparted could be used by police to aid them in their investigation of the case, and probably lead them to discoveries that miht not otherwise have been known to them. That might raise questions about the admissibility of that evidence, comparable to the police obtaining evidence without a warrant.


It would be incumbent on the defense attorney to raise all these objections and have any such evidence declared inadmissible. .

Last edited by jtur88; 10-26-2016 at 02:58 PM.
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Old 10-26-2016, 02:55 PM
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Privileged communication (the term for the information covered by confidentiality) isn't admissible in court, and the privilege is owned by the confessor/client/patient, not the person providing spiritual/legal/medical counseling. The only way to make it non-privileged is for the defendant to release it or the court to rule that privilege doesn't apply, which they don't do very often. So the priest's testimony would absolutely not be admissible in court, and could actually compromise a police investigation - they couldn't use it as a basis for a warrant and the defense could argue that any warrant after the priest revealed information was based on what the priest said.

I don't think there's any specific laws making it illegal for a priest to reveal information, there are definitely laws preventing a doctor from releasing medical information (HIPAA laws for example), and I'm not sure about criminal law for lawyers, but they will face sanctions from the Bar for unethical behavior.
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Old 10-26-2016, 03:19 PM
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No, it wouldn't be hearsay. It would be direct testimony of what the defendant said. Though it's not direct evidence of what the defendant actually DID.
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Old 10-26-2016, 03:27 PM
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Originally Posted by jtur88 View Post
It would be hearsay, so would not be admitted into evidence in any case.
If that were true, wouldn't the testimony of jailhouse snitches also be be inadmissible hearsay? You know, the ones where a prisoner testifies that his new cellmate admitted to all kinds of crimes.
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Old 10-26-2016, 03:31 PM
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Not legal, in the sense of the priest could face charges for divulging confessional information.

On the other hand, the religious penalties are pretty dire; they're not allowed to divulge such information for ANY reason, under pain of automatic excommunication.

http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/...fessional.html
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Old 10-26-2016, 04:09 PM
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It's complicated and of course depends on where you are, this is good read on general circumstances in several countries.
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Old 10-26-2016, 04:33 PM
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If by "legal prohibitions" you include those laid out by the Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church, then yes, violating the seal of confession is very much illegal. This is covered by Can. 983–984. The prohibition applies not only to the confessor but also to any interpreter who may have mediated the communication.
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Old 10-26-2016, 05:21 PM
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Originally Posted by jtur88 View Post
It would be hearsay, so would not be admitted into evidence in any case.
Wrong.

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Originally Posted by Boyo Jim View Post
No, it wouldn't be hearsay. It would be direct testimony of what the defendant said. Though it's not direct evidence of what the defendant actually DID.
And wrong. (But a possible nuance, so better to say, "Almost certainly wrong, but discussion follows.")

Isn't this GQ?

Hearsay is: an out-of-court statement, offered into evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement.

Now that we know what hearsay is, we can see that the statement offered as evidence against the declarant at trial in order to prove he committed the murder would be hearsay.

Boyo Jim: if you're talking about this evidence being used at the murder trial to convince the jury that because he said it, he probably did it, then the statement is hearsay.

However, we might imagine another proceeding in which it would not be hearsay. For example, let's imagine that the declarant confessed to murdering the priest's sister, and the priest flew into a rage and beat the declarant unconscious. At the priest's trial, the statement would be offered into evidence, but NOT to show the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. Instead, it would be offered to show what made the priest react as he did. The truth of the statement wouldn't be relevant -- just the fact that the words were spoken. In such a case, the statement would not be hearsay.

OK?

That's just the hearsay part of things.

Now, is the statement admissible?

Normally -- that is, without a priest in the mix -- the statement would probably be admissible even though it's hearsay. The reason is that there are some well-recognized exceptions to the rule against the admission of hearsay, and this almost certainly falls into one: the admission against interest.

However, since the admission is made to a priest, it's possible that the priest-penitent privilege would apply. Different states implement this privilege slightly differently, but it's relatively certain that such a statement, made to a priest in the context of a priest-penitent conversation, would NOI be admissible against the declarant.

I'm not aware of any secular penalty against the priest for revealing such a confidence, though. It's just that his testimony couldn't be used.
  #10  
Old 10-26-2016, 06:33 PM
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Originally Posted by jtur88 View Post
It would be hearsay,
as has been said, no it wouldn't. "Hearsay" is "third party," e.g. "someone told me the defendant said this." someone testifying about what the defendant said to them is not hearsay.
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Old 10-26-2016, 07:51 PM
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as has been said, no it wouldn't. "Hearsay" is "third party," e.g. "someone told me the defendant said this." someone testifying about what the defendant said to them is not hearsay.
Look, if you don't know what the heck you're talking about, then in GQ wouldn't it be better to not post your guesses as though they were fact?

Hearsay is NOT "someone told me the defendant said this.

If Bob says to you, "I wear size 7 hats," and then you go into court and take the stand, and the party that called you to the stand wants to prove that Bob wears size 7 hats, and asks you, "What size hats did Bob tell you he wears?" THAT QUESTION ELICITS HEARSAY.

It's not third party. It's a question about what Bob directly told you, and yet - gosh and golly! It's still hearsay!

Hearsay is an out of court statement that is offered in evidence IN court in an effort to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement.

OK? Got it?

It may be admissible under some exception to the hearsay rule. But it's hearsay. It's the freaking definition of hearsay.
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Old 10-26-2016, 09:09 PM
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Much as I hate to nitpick Bricker, even his answer is arguably incomplete. Section 801(d)(2) of the Federal Rules of Evidence (i.e., the rules in federal court) explicitly says that an out of court statement by a party to the case (such as the defendant) simply is not hearsay. It's admissible not because it's an exception, but because it's not hearsay. The practical effects of this distinction are rather technical, of course. And state court rules may differ such that Bricker would be wholly correct there.

As others have noted, the next step is priest-penitent privilege, and the defendant would be able to exclude the statement on that basis. As an aside, the priest cannot get around the prohibition by telling his housekeeper and suggesting that she testify, because his statements to her are definitely hearsay.

I agree with others who have said that there does not appear to be any secular legal punishment facing the priest.
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Old 10-26-2016, 09:40 PM
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Originally Posted by Tom Tildrum View Post
Much as I hate to nitpick Bricker, even his answer is arguably incomplete. Section 801(d)(2) of the Federal Rules of Evidence (i.e., the rules in federal court) explicitly says that an out of court statement by a party to the case (such as the defendant) simply is not hearsay. It's admissible not because it's an exception, but because it's not hearsay. The practical effects of this distinction are rather technical, of course. And state court rules may differ such that Bricker would be wholly correct there.
Well, not to trade nitpicks... but FRE 801(d)(2) refers to the case where the declarant testifies and is subject to cross-examination about a prior statement, and then testifies inconsistently with the prior statement, or consistently and the statement is offered to rebut recent fabrication. (In which case it wouldn't be hearsay anyway).

Anyway, since the hypothetical crime was murder, and since murder is often (although by no means always!) a state crime, I did not delve into the federal vs. state evidence code morass.

But you're right that there are differences which made my answer incomplete. In my jurisdiction, Va Evidence Code 2:803(0), "Hearsay Exceptions Where Availability Of Declarant Need Not Be Shown," provides in relevant part:

Quote:
Admission. by party-opponent. A statement offered against a party that is
(A) the party's own statement, in either an individual or a representative capacity,
or (B) a statement of which the party has manifested adoption or belief in its truth,
or (C) a statement by a person authorized by the party to make a statement
concerning the subject, or (D) a statement by the party's agent or employee, made
during the term of the agency or employment, concerning a matter within the scope
of such agency or employment, or (E) a statement by a co-conspirator of a party
during the course and in furtherance of the conspiracy.
This is analogous to FRE 804(b)(3):

Quote:
Statement Against Interest. A statement that:

(A) a reasonable person in the declarant’s position would have made only if the person believed it to be true because, when made, it was so contrary to the declarant’s proprietary or pecuniary interest or had so great a tendency to invalidate the declarant’s claim against someone else or to expose the declarant to civil or criminal liability; and

(B) is supported by corroborating circumstances that clearly indicate its trustworthiness, if it is offered in a criminal case as one that tends to expose the declarant to criminal liability.

Last edited by Bricker; 10-26-2016 at 09:41 PM.
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Old 10-26-2016, 09:44 PM
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OK, so where does this priest-penitent privilege come from? Client-lawyer makes sense, abrogating that cuts into the legal process and the pursuit of justice. Priest-penitent makes no sense other than being a particular society's way of embracing part of a religion's culture. Are there equivalent other forms of privileged conversation? Student-schoolteacher? How about owner-slave?

Right now here in Oz, as in many other places, we are still seeing the fallout of church based sexual abuse scandals. We are facing the prospect of senior members of the church being charged with various offences in obstructing justice. Mostly information about the abuse came from channels other than the confessional, however I find it hard to imagine that information provided in a confession could be afforded legal protection in such cases.
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Old 10-26-2016, 09:44 PM
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Then again, what happens if the priest is then arrested for the murder?
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0045897/
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Old 10-26-2016, 10:07 PM
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Originally Posted by Francis Vaughan View Post
OK, so where does this priest-penitent privilege come from?
The short answer is that it comes from the relevant evidence codes; in my jurisdiction it's found in Rule 2:503, "Clergy and Communicant Privilege:"

Quote:
A clergy member means any regular minister, priest, rabbi, or accredited
practitioner over the age of 18 years, of any religious organization or denomination
usually referred to as a church. A clergy member shall not be required:

(A) in any civil action, to give testimony as a witness or to disclose in discovery
proceedings the contents of notes, records or any written documentation made by
the clergy member, where such testimony or disclosure would reveal any
information communicated in a confidential manner, properly entrusted to such
clergy member in a professional capacity and necessary to enable discharge of the
functions of office according to the usual course of the clergy member's practice or
discipline, wherein the person so communicating such information about himself
or herself, or another, was seeking spiritual counsel and advice relating to and
growing out ofthe information so imparted; and

(B) in any criminal action, in giving testimony as a witness to disclose any
information communicated by the accused in a confidential manner, properly
entrusted to the clergy member in a professional capacity and necessary to enable
discharge of the functions of office according to the usual course of the clergy _
member's practice or discipline, where the person· so communicating such
information about himself or herself, or another, was seeking spiritual counsel and
advice relating to and growing out of the information so imparted.
If you're asking, from a historical standpoint, why the evidence code permits such a privilege to exist. . . . that's a longer post than I'd care to compose unless there's a real interest in the backstory, but I think it's fair to say that it has a long ancestry, arising at common law as far back as James I and arguably even to the Norman invasion.

Quote:
Client-lawyer makes sense, abrogating that cuts into the legal process and the pursuit of justice. Priest-penitent makes no sense other than being a particular society's way of embracing part of a religion's culture. Are there equivalent other forms of privileged conversation? Student-schoolteacher? How about owner-slave?
No to both. But there's spousal privilege, which protects private communications between husband and wife -- and, one supposes, now between husband and husband and between wife and wife. Patient-physician privilege protects communications for the purpose of medical treatment between a patient and his healer. And the interpreter privilege binds any translator who facilitates an otherwise privileged communication between a deaf or non-English speaking person and another is bound by the same privilege that attaches to the original communication.

Quote:
Mostly information about the abuse came from channels other than the confessional, however I find it hard to imagine that information provided in a confession could be afforded legal protection in such cases.
I don't know what the law in Australia is, but my view is the opposite: I find it hard to believe that information provided in a confessional would NOT be afforded legal protection. It certainly would in the United States, in both federal court and every state court I'm aware of.
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Old 10-26-2016, 10:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Francis Vaughan View Post
OK, so where does this priest-penitent privilege come from? Client-lawyer makes sense, abrogating that cuts into the legal process and the pursuit of justice. Priest-penitent makes no sense other than being a particular society's way of embracing part of a religion's culture. Are there equivalent other forms of privileged conversation? Student-schoolteacher? How about owner-slave?
It mostly traces back to Church doctrine (Catholic, because that was the only one back circa 400 AD).

There are also such privileged communications between doctor-patient, covering all kinds of physical & mental health workers. (Even your massage therapist -- I've heard of cases where one such could not be forced to testify in a worker comp case). And of course, spouses have the same privilege.

The justification for these is that society is better off if such intimate, personal communications are honest & truthful, and being able to force them to be revealed in Court would threaten that. For example, a patient might be hesitant to talk to his doctor about fear that he may be becoming dependent on prescription painkillers and ask for treatment, if the doctor could be forced to testify about that conversation.
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Old 10-26-2016, 10:27 PM
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Well, not to trade nitpicks... but FRE 801(d)(2) refers to the case where the declarant testifies and is subject to cross-examination about a prior statement, and then testifies inconsistently with the prior statement, or consistently and the statement is offered to rebut recent fabrication. (In which case it wouldn't be hearsay anyway).
I'm sorry, but you're looking at 801(d)(1).

FRE 801(d)(2) does not require that the declarant have testified; it simply says that a confession, under any circumstances, is not hearsay.
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Old 10-26-2016, 11:05 PM
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Whew! I feared the worst there back at the "I hate to nitpick...." followed by the "not to trade nitpicks....", but thankfully rhetorical nicety yields to GQ best practices.
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Old 10-26-2016, 11:25 PM
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I'm sorry, but you're looking at 801(d)(1).

FRE 801(d)(2) does not require that the declarant have testified; it simply says that a confession, under any circumstances, is not hearsay.
D'oh! Right you are.
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Old 10-27-2016, 12:54 AM
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Quote:
Let's say this priest then reports the confession to the police
I have a related question: what if the priest reports not just hearsay confession, but actual facts?
Suppose the penitent told the priest where he hid the murder weapon.

The police search the location and find the weapon with fingerprints. Is that admissable evidence in court?

Last edited by chappachula; 10-27-2016 at 12:54 AM.
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Old 10-27-2016, 02:32 AM
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I have a related question: what if the priest reports not just hearsay confession, but actual facts?
Suppose the penitent told the priest where he hid the murder weapon.

The police search the location and find the weapon with fingerprints. Is that admissable evidence in court?
The police can give evidence of the search, the discovery of the weapon, the examination of the weapon, the discover of the fingerprints, the identification of the fingerprints. None of that would be hearsay or inadmissible.

The weight of this evidence wouldn't be greatly added to by the revelation that the police got the tip-off from a priest who told them he had himself got the information fro a penitent in the confessional, so it's very unlikely that the state would seek to call the priest to give evidence about what was said to him. The question of the admissibility of the priest's evidence as to what was said to him would therefore not arise.
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Old 10-27-2016, 02:56 AM
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There are also such privileged communications between doctor-patient, covering all kinds of physical & mental health workers. (Even your massage therapist -- I've heard of cases where one such could not be forced to testify in a worker comp case).
Do you have a cite for the bolded part?
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Old 10-27-2016, 05:15 AM
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The police can give evidence of the search, the discovery of the weapon, the examination of the weapon, the discover of the fingerprints, the identification of the fingerprints. None of that would be hearsay or inadmissible.
Are you sure that it would be admissible?

Given that this evidence was obtained only from the priest's information, and that it was privileged information, (with the privilege belonging to the confessent, not the priest), I'd think the defense lawyer would challenge the admissibility. And from my (non-lawyer) understanding of the 'fruit of the poisoned tree' theory, he would win -- evidence obtained illegally is not admissible.
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Old 10-27-2016, 05:19 AM
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Do you have a cite for the bolded part?
Not much of one. I recall it being told to me years ago by a lawyer whose firm sometimes did workers comp cases. Possibly googling would find info about the rules on this (though they probably vary a lot in each state).
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Old 10-27-2016, 06:18 AM
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Are you sure that it would be admissible?

Given that this evidence was obtained only from the priest's information, and that it was privileged information, (with the privilege belonging to the confessent, not the priest), I'd think the defense lawyer would challenge the admissibility. And from my (non-lawyer) understanding of the 'fruit of the poisoned tree' theory, he would win -- evidence obtained illegally is not admissible.
Just because something is inadmissible doesn't mean it was obtained illegally. The vast majority of information that is inadmissible was not obtained illegally.
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Old 10-27-2016, 06:27 AM
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D'oh!
Excited utterance!
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Old 10-27-2016, 06:47 AM
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I have a related question: what if the priest reports not just hearsay confession, but actual facts?
Suppose the penitent told the priest where he hid the murder weapon.

The police search the location and find the weapon with fingerprints. Is that admissable evidence in court?
While making room for a state with contrary laws, I can't think of any generally-applicable provision that would exclude this evidence.
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Old 10-27-2016, 07:00 AM
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Originally Posted by t-bonham@scc.net View Post
The justification for these is that society is better off if such intimate, personal communications are honest & truthful, and being able to force them to be revealed in Court would threaten that. For example, a patient might be hesitant to talk to his doctor about fear that he may be becoming dependent on prescription painkillers and ask for treatment, if the doctor could be forced to testify about that conversation.
The Spanish Criminal Code includes "spontaneous confession" and "delivered himself" among the items which should produce a more lenient sentence. A criminal who went to a priest knowing that the priest can't call the cops on him, and who was then convinced by the priest to deliver himself to the police, would still be counted as "delivered himself and confessed spontaneously", and the priest could be called upon to testify in their favor: reporting relevant parts of the conversation to the police and court with the criminal's permission does not break the secrecy of the confessional (anything else which was part of the same conversation is still covered by it).

At lower levels, I've seen it work for small and not so small school stuff, or in work situations. Knowing there's certain people that you can ask for advice without getting yourself in trouble for it can be an enormous relief.
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Old 10-27-2016, 07:50 AM
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Are you sure that it would be admissible?

Given that this evidence was obtained only from the priest's information, and that it was privileged information, (with the privilege belonging to the confessent, not the priest), I'd think the defense lawyer would challenge the admissibility. And from my (non-lawyer) understanding of the 'fruit of the poisoned tree' theory, he would win -- evidence obtained illegally is not admissible.
No, this isn't quite the meaning of "poisoned tree." The exclusion principle is crafted to deter police misconduct by removing the incentive to violate Constitutional guarantees. As an example, if the police in good faith rely upon a warrant that is ultimately shown to be flawed, the evidence derived therefrom is still admissible, no matter how "poisoned," the original tree was.
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Old 10-27-2016, 08:32 AM
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If it's OK to use privileged information to obtain a search warrant, why does the US Attorney's manual recommend that police searching through privileged information bring in uninvolved investigators to determine which documents are OK to seize? Is the problem in this case that other documents aren't covered by the warrant, not just that they're privileged?

http://cyb3rcrim3.blogspot.com/2009/...ey-client.html
Quote:
[w]hile every effort should be made to avoid viewing privileged material, the search may require limited review of arguably privileged material to ascertain whether the material is covered by the warrant. Therefore, to protect the . . . privilege and to ensure that the investigation is not compromised by exposure to privileged material . . ., a "privilege team" should be designated, consisting of agents and lawyers not involved in the underlying investigation.
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Old 10-27-2016, 08:48 AM
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If it's OK to use privileged information to obtain a search warrant, why does the US Attorney's manual recommend that police searching through privileged information bring in uninvolved investigators to determine which documents are OK to seize? Is the problem in this case that other documents aren't covered by the warrant, not just that they're privileged?

http://cyb3rcrim3.blogspot.com/2009/...ey-client.html
The attorney-client privilege is not co-extensive with the priest penitent privilege.

Disclosure of information within the ambit of attorney client privilege can affect the accused's right to a fair trial by revealing defense strategy, theories of the case, results of witness interviews, impeachment evidence against Commonwealth witnesses, and the like. The evidence uncovered by a search such as the one described above is potentially both direct conversations between attorney and client and attorney work product -- that is, material generated by the attorney in furtherance of the defense of the client.

In short -- letting the prosecutor see that material impairs the defense strategy, regardless of whether the evidence is admissible at trial.
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Old 10-27-2016, 09:57 AM
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That makes sense, I thought they worked basically the same.
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Old 10-27-2016, 10:40 AM
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Originally Posted by Bricker View Post
Look, if you don't know what the heck you're talking about, then in GQ wouldn't it be better to not post your guesses as though they were fact?

Hearsay is NOT "someone told me the defendant said this.

If Bob says to you, "I wear size 7 hats," and then you go into court and take the stand, and the party that called you to the stand wants to prove that Bob wears size 7 hats, and asks you, "What size hats did Bob tell you he wears?" THAT QUESTION ELICITS HEARSAY.

It's not third party. It's a question about what Bob directly told you, and yet - gosh and golly! It's still hearsay!

Hearsay is an out of court statement that is offered in evidence IN court in an effort to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement.

OK? Got it?

It may be admissible under some exception to the hearsay rule. But it's hearsay. It's the freaking definition of hearsay.
you know, you can correct someone without having to proceed to grind them into the dirt for being wrong.
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Old 10-27-2016, 10:44 AM
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you know, you can correct someone without having to proceed to grind them into the dirt for being wrong.
Yeah, I got a bit unhinged there. I apologize.
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Old 10-27-2016, 11:05 AM
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Originally Posted by Bricker View Post

I don't know what the law in Australia is, but my view is the opposite: I find it hard to believe that information provided in a confessional would NOT be afforded legal protection. It certainly would in the United States, in both federal court and every state court I'm aware of.
I believe it differs from state to state in Australia. I think it would be fair to say that in light of the very serious abuses performed by the Catholic church in Australia which have been heavily in our media (Cardinal Pell etc) that the Australian public would mostly be in favour of priests being obliged to break the confessional when there is ongoing harm to an individual. Eg if a Priest who is sexually abusing children confesses to another priest and then continues to abuse. We're also a remarkably irreligious country anyway and rather famously had an openly atheist Prime Minister is the 1980's who is remembered rather fondly (Bob Hawke)

I believe that counsellors / psychiatrists are legally required to break privilege in Australia in cases of ongoing harm and I see no rational reason why religious clergy should not have a similar obligation. Sorry but real world ongoing harm takes priority over your made up rules from the invisible sky father.

Last edited by coremelt; 10-27-2016 at 11:08 AM.
  #37  
Old 10-27-2016, 11:30 AM
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OK, so where does this priest-penitent privilege come from? Client-lawyer makes sense, abrogating that cuts into the legal process and the pursuit of justice. Priest-penitent makes no sense other than being a particular society's way of embracing part of a religion's culture.
It's been suggested to me that the privilege simply acknowledges the practical reality of the situation -- that abrogating the privilege would not produce testimony, because in most cases, the priest will choose to sit in jail for contempt rather than breach his religious duty.
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Old 10-27-2016, 12:35 PM
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I believe it differs from state to state in Australia. I think it would be fair to say that in light of the very serious abuses performed by the Catholic church in Australia which have been heavily in our media (Cardinal Pell etc) that the Australian public would mostly be in favour of priests being obliged to break the confessional when there is ongoing harm to an individual. Eg if a Priest who is sexually abusing children confesses to another priest and then continues to abuse. We're also a remarkably irreligious country anyway and rather famously had an openly atheist Prime Minister is the 1980's who is remembered rather fondly (Bob Hawke)

I believe that counsellors / psychiatrists are legally required to break privilege in Australia in cases of ongoing harm and I see no rational reason why religious clergy should not have a similar obligation. Sorry but real world ongoing harm takes priority over your made up rules from the invisible sky father.
Nothing in your post addresses the law in Australia; you have merely shared your opinion of what the law should be and your opinion of what public sentiment might be. I assume that in Australia, neither your opinion nor a measurement of public sentiment would be the basis for an evidentiary ruling by a court.

Or am I mistaken? As I say: I don't know the law in Australia.
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Old 10-27-2016, 12:42 PM
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It mostly traces back to Church doctrine (Catholic, because that was the only one back circa 400 AD).
.
That's a pretty simplistic note for a complicated issue of Church history. There was also the Nestorian Church, the Eastern Church, the Coptic Church, and so forth.
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Old 10-27-2016, 12:57 PM
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I once got pretty drunk with my friend Michael and his uncle, an alcoholic Catholic priest.

Michael's uncle began telling "tales from the confessional" which I found hilarious, but Michael became increasingly upset. The priest said it was ok because he wasn't naming names, but Michael insisted it was a horrible sin.

Eventually Michael couldn't take any more and asked me to leave.


ETA: the priest got a real kick out of me calling him "Uncle Father", but then again he was pretty trashed.

Last edited by kayaker; 10-27-2016 at 12:59 PM.
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Old 10-27-2016, 01:17 PM
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Originally Posted by kayaker View Post
I once got pretty drunk with my friend Michael and his uncle, an alcoholic Catholic priest.

Michael's uncle began telling "tales from the confessional" which I found hilarious, but Michael became increasingly upset. The priest said it was ok because he wasn't naming names, but Michael insisted it was a horrible sin.

Eventually Michael couldn't take any more and asked me to leave.


ETA: the priest got a real kick out of me calling him "Uncle Father", but then again he was pretty trashed.
As psychonaut correctly cited above, this is covered by the Code of Canon Law, Can. 983 §1, which provides that it is absolutely forbidden for a priest to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason. So the better practice is to avoid doing what the priest was doing, especially if the "tales" contain specific information by which a listener might identify a specific situation or penitent. It's likely safe for a priest to discuss, generically, things like, "Many small children confess to fighting with their siblings," because this is an aggregate observation that can apply to any population of small children. But more specific, or lurid, recitals run the risj of transgressing that law.

And of course that's church law, not secular law.
  #42  
Old 10-27-2016, 02:00 PM
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That's a pretty simplistic note for a complicated issue of Church history. There was also the Nestorian Church, the Eastern Church, the Coptic Church, and so forth.
t.bonham@scc.net was responding to a question from Francis Vaughan about where the priest-penitent privilege comes from, i.e. the legal privilege. Since the US law on this point is based on English common law, then yes, the Catholic Church doctrine was the starting point for the privilege, since those other churches were not present in England.
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Old 10-27-2016, 02:07 PM
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t.bonham@scc.net was responding to a question from Francis Vaughan about where the priest-penitent privilege comes from, i.e. the legal privilege. Since the US law on this point is based on English common law, then yes, the Catholic Church doctrine was the starting point for the privilege, since those other churches were not present in England.
The Celtic church was.

Still, in AD 400 it's hard to argue there was a distinct "Catholic" church.
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Old 10-27-2016, 02:45 PM
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As psychonaut correctly cited above, this is covered by the Code of Canon Law, Can. 983 §1, which provides that it is absolutely forbidden for a priest to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason. So the better practice is to avoid doing what the priest was doing, especially if the "tales" contain specific information by which a listener might identify a specific situation or penitent. It's likely safe for a priest to discuss, generically, things like, "Many small children confess to fighting with their siblings," because this is an aggregate observation that can apply to any population of small children. But more specific, or lurid, recitals run the risj of transgressing that law.

And of course that's church law, not secular law.
I imagine it's rather similar to the restrictions on medical professionals as far as divulging someone's medical status.

If the doctor says "A guy came in the other day with an acorn squash up his butt", that doesn't really divulge anything identifying any more than a priest saying that one of his penitents confessed to some bizarre act, unless the bizarre act was in itself identifying.
  #45  
Old 10-27-2016, 03:22 PM
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I don't know the law in Australia.
I've heard that it turns the common law upside down in many ways.
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Old 10-27-2016, 07:08 PM
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I've heard that it turns the common law upside down in many ways.
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Old 10-27-2016, 08:18 PM
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Originally Posted by coremelt View Post
I believe that counsellors / psychiatrists are legally required to break privilege in Australia in cases of ongoing harm and I see no rational reason why religious clergy should not have a similar obligation. Sorry but real world ongoing harm takes priority over your made up rules from the invisible sky father.
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Originally Posted by Bricker View Post
Nothing in your post addresses the law in Australia; you have merely shared your opinion of what the law should be and your opinion of what public sentiment might be. I assume that in Australia, neither your opinion nor a measurement of public sentiment would be the basis for an evidentiary ruling by a court.

Or am I mistaken? As I say: I don't know the law in Australia.
Various Australian states have mandatory disclosure regimes in relation to child abuse, but so far as I know none of them extend to what a priest might hear in the confessional.

It's hard to see the value in such a rule. If the priest doesn't disclose what he has heard in the confessional, then the only way you would know what he had heard, and could prosecute him for not disclosing it, is if the pentitent reports what he himself said, and is willing to give evidence to that effect. But if the penitent does this, you have whatever evidence of crime the penitent's statements could give you - you have direct evidence from the penitent that such-and-such a thing happened, which is obviously better than hearsay evidence from a priest that the penitent said that such-and-such a thing happened, both in terms of admissibility and in terms of simple probative value..
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Old 10-31-2016, 07:56 AM
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I found this document from the US government listing various rules about clergy testifying, specifically in child abuse cases. There most certainly are several states that do not recognize any clergy-penitent privilege in child abuse cases, so yes, a priest could be forced to testify as to what he was told in the confessional.

Also, as I'm reading the laws about the privilege, it appears that a priest cannot be forced to testify to what he heard in the confessional, but can he volunteer to do so and still have it be admissable? Bricker's cite above (of Virginia law?) says:

Quote:
A clergy member means any regular minister, priest, rabbi, or accredited
practitioner over the age of 18 years, of any religious organization or denomination
usually referred to as a church. A clergy member shall not be required:

(A) in any civil action, to give testimony as a witness or to disclose in discovery
proceedings the contents of notes, records or any written documentation made by
the clergy member, where such testimony or disclosure would reveal any
information communicated in a confidential manner, properly entrusted to such
clergy member in a professional capacity and necessary to enable discharge of the
functions of office according to the usual course of the clergy member's practice or
discipline, wherein the person so communicating such information about himself
or herself, or another, was seeking spiritual counsel and advice relating to and
growing out ofthe information so imparted; and

(B) in any criminal action, in giving testimony as a witness to disclose any
information communicated by the accused in a confidential manner, properly
entrusted to the clergy member in a professional capacity and necessary to enable
discharge of the functions of office according to the usual course of the clergy _
member's practice or discipline, where the person· so communicating such
information about himself or herself, or another, was seeking spiritual counsel and
advice relating to and growing out of the information so imparted.
So basically you can't require clergy to testify, but I don't see anything there about evidence being inadmissable if a clergy member volunteers to testify. Bricker, is that a separate section of law?
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Old 10-31-2016, 10:09 AM
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Originally Posted by muldoonthief View Post
I found this document from the US government listing various rules about clergy testifying, specifically in child abuse cases. There most certainly are several states that do not recognize any clergy-penitent privilege in child abuse cases, so yes, a priest could be forced to testify as to what he was told in the confessional.

Also, as I'm reading the laws about the privilege, it appears that a priest cannot be forced to testify to what he heard in the confessional, but can he volunteer to do so and still have it be admissable? Bricker's cite above (of Virginia law?) says:


So basically you can't require clergy to testify, but I don't see anything there about evidence being inadmissable if a clergy member volunteers to testify. Bricker, is that a separate section of law?
I think it will depend on the state. In New York, for instance, the priest-penitent privilege essentially belongs to the penitent. New York law provides that, "Unless the person confessing or confiding waives the privilege, a clergyman, or other minister of any religion or duly accredited Christian Science practitioner, shall not be allowed [to] disclose a confession or confidence made to him in his professional character as spiritual advisor." Delaware has a similar rule ("A person has a privilege to refuse to disclose and to prevent another from disclosing a confidential communication by the person to a clergyman in his professional character as a spiritual adviser") and that privilege can be claimed by the person's estate even after they die.

I'm not sure where Bricker's cite is from but there may be a separate provision in that state that would prohibit the priest from testifying even if he or she wanted to. Or maybe there isn't and a priest could not be compelled to testify but could do so willingly.
  #50  
Old 10-31-2016, 01:32 PM
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The privilege comes about because going far back in history, some (Catholic) clergy chose to become martyrs or go to jail or undergo torture rather than betray the confessional and their vows. A state that state that chooses to ignore the privilege of confessional simply is one that has to decide whether it will routinely lock up clergy, particularly Catholic ones, for sticking to principles. Some states apparently didn't have a problem with that. All churches have some form of counselling for members.

The sacrament of confession was instituted to allow people to confess their sins to God without fear that there would be earthly retribution. Obviously, unburdening your mind and admitting wrongdoing helps. IIRC, some confessions the priest will strongly suggest that confessing to worldly authorities would be part of the duty of righting things, although they don't deny spiritual confession.

But then, of course as pointed out - if there's no expectation of confidentiality, why would anyone be honest? Then just stack the jury with Catholics and get the priest to admit that you told him in the privacy of the confessional that you didn't do it.
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