The Marital Communications Privilege in Florida

If you have been charged with a crime, whether in Florida or elsewhere, it’s quite natural to feel a bit “overwhelmed” or “nervous” about the prospect of criminal litigation — after all, the consequences of criminal litigation can be life-altering.  Failure to effectively counter the prosecution’s arguments and have the charges dismissed can lead to a conviction and, subsequently, a sentence that involves a term of imprisonment, probation, or both.

In most cases, evidence lies at the core of criminal liability.  The state of Florida applies a number of evidentiary privileges, including the marital communications privilege.  These privileges give the defendant an opportunity to prevent certain evidence from being introduced into the case at-issue.  By understanding the marital communications privilege, you will be better equipped to navigate criminal litigation (and the evidentiary battles typical of such litigation).

The Marital Communications Privilege at a Glance

The Husband-Wife privilege (otherwise known as the spousal privilege, or marital communications privilege) is enshrined in section 90.504 of the Florida Statutes.  This privilege gives you and your spouse the ability to prevent the content of private communications you made to one another from being disclosed in a court of law.

So, why does the privilege exist?

The marital communications privilege is intended to protect the institution of marriage — simply put, if spouses were compelled to speak against one another, then they might not share sensitive information during their marriage, thus undermining the sanctity of the marital relationship.

Importantly, the privilege can be claimed by either spouse.  Even if one spouse “waives” their privilege, the other can claim it and prevent the confidential communications at-issue from being disclosed.

For example, suppose that you have been charged for DUI manslaughter.  The prosecution attempts to call your wife as a witness and have them disclose the content of discussions you had with her after the accident — they suspect that you confessed to your wife that you were intoxicated at the time of the accident.  Even if you had admitted to being intoxicated, however, you (and your wife) could claim the marital communications privilege and prevent such information from being disclosed.

Potential Vulnerabilities

There are a number of limitations and vulnerabilities to consider when attempting to claim the privilege.

You may claim the marital communications privilege for any confidential communications you made with your spouse during marriage.  This allows you to claim the privilege even if you have subsequently divorced or separated from your spouse (so long as the communications were made during marriage).  If you communicated with the spouse outside of the marital relationship, however — for example, if the communications were made prior to having been formally married — then the prosecution can compel your spouse to testify.

Only “confidential” communications are privileged.  The privilege will therefore only apply if you reasonably believed that your communications were private and confidential.  For example, if you loudly discussed a matter with your wife at a bar (at a high enough volume that those sitting around you could easily hear), then those communications will not be privileged.  There must be a reasonable expectation of privacy in order for the communications to be privileged.

Get in Touch With Experienced Bradenton Criminal Defense Attorneys for Further Assistance

Here at the Fowler Law Group, our attorneys have decades of combined experience assisting Florida criminal defendants in a range of litigation.  We have successfully tried over fifty criminal jury trials, and have helped numerous clients avoid or mitigate liability.  We are committed to the provision of personalized legal representation — it is our fundamental belief that, given the particularly sensitive and high-stakes nature of criminal litigation, it’s important that clients be involved in the strategic process, and that the attorney-client relationship be as transparent as possible.

Call (941) 900-3100 today to speak with one of our experienced Bradenton criminal defense attorneys.  We will evaluate your case and work with you to determine how to move forward with an effective defense.

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