Most criminal defense attorneys will warn clients or potential clients of discussing the case with anyone but your lawyer. This is obviously true when police are involved, as most statements made – unless obtained illegally – can be used against you. It's also true of statements made to colleagues, friends and even family members.
It's even true of statements made to spouses. While these kinds of communications are sometimes protected under the doctrine of “marital privilege,” that privilege is not absolute. First, it protects only communication intended to be confidential. Further, it only protects confidential communications at the time a marriage was valid.
What's more, there are sometimes exceptions made to this privilege in cases where the underlying allegation is sexual assault of a child, particularly where the alleged victim is the child of one or both spouses.
Our experienced Birmingham sex crime defense lawyers understand there were two recent cases in Tennessee where exceptions to this privilege were made in criminal proceedings. Although these are out-of-state cases, the same general legal principle still applies to defendants in Alabama.
The first case is State v. Clark, heard by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Defendant was found guilty of seven counts of child rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery stemming from the sexual abuse of his children. Defendant appealed his convictions, primarily on the basis that part of his wife's testimony indicating he confessed to her. Evidence also included surreptitiously-recorded conversations between defendant and his wife, which trial court refused to suppress upon defense request.
The wife, while cooperating with authorities, elicited incriminating statements from defendant regarding his suspected sexual abuse of their daughters.
Trial court chose not to suppress the statements because, while the wife had been acting as an “instrument of the state” at the time defendant's confession was recorded, his statements had not been coerced.
In affirming his convictions, the state supreme court noted there was sufficient evidence presented to corroborate defendant's confession to his wife, and the trial court rightly denied the suppression motion with regard to the recordings.
In the second case, State v. Sanders, defendant was indicted on six counts of aggravated sexual battery and four counts of rape for alleged abuse of his stepdaughter. In this case, too, defendant moved to suppress surreptitiously-recorded conversations he had with the girl's mother, who was secretly cooperating with police.
Trial court denied this motion.
Defendant appealed, arguing he'd been coerced by his wife into making a false confession.
But here again, both the appellate court and the Tennessee Supreme Court found that while mother was acting as a state agent, she did not coerce defendant and she was reasonably motivated by confronting her child's alleged molester. The decision to deny the suppression motion stood.
In both cases, spouses made promises to defendants. They indicated the statements were needed for “personal closure” or before they could “become a family again.” The courts conceded these were misrepresentations, but did not go so far as coercion in eliciting the confession. Thus, the statements were admissible.
These instances show why it is so important for individuals in these circumstances to avoid making any potentially incriminating statements to anyone. If you are under investigation for sexual assault or suspect you may be, consult with an experienced defense lawyer to determine how to best protect your rights and interests.
State v. Sanders, Nov. 10, 2014, Tennessee Supreme Court
State v. Clark, Nov. 10, 2014, Tennessee Supreme Court