Can My Spouse Testify Against Me in Court?

If you’ve had a run-in with the law and are facing criminal charges, you may be wondering if your spouse can testify against you. Many of us think that if we are married, then the judge cannot force our spouse to testify against us in court due to the Marital Privileges laws put in place. However, there are some exceptions that would allow the judge to have your wife or husband testify against you in court. If you are facing criminal charges it is essential that you understand when marital privileges will be used in your favor and when and why exceptions are made.

What is a Marital Privilege?

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When it comes to testifying in court there are a couple of different laws that govern who and what is allowed to and allowed not to testify. One such law that we are all familiar with is the “right to remain silent”. However, unlike a privilege, the right to remain silent (the fifth amendment) is a constitutional right, where “privileges” are laws that can and do have exceptions.

Some of the most common privileges we hear about are the client-attorney privilege, the client-doctor privilege, and marital privilege. 

So what exactly is a privilege? As previously mentioned, it is just that: a privilege and not a right, which means it is up for interpretation across the states and even within jurisdictions in one state. As this article states, a privilege allows a person to object to their own or other’s testimony about communications within certain confidential relationships. 

How Does Marital Privilege Work?

What’s allowed for Marital Privilege in court depends on the crime that was committed, the nature of the crime, and the judge’s ruling. Marital Privilege basically works in one of two ways as defined by Marital communications and spousal testimony.

Marital communication includes all communication between you and your spouse during the time that you were together. This privilege allows any information you gave to your spouse to be confidential and to not be used in court (there are exceptions as you’ll see below). The other privilege is Spousal Testimony. This privilege grants your spouse the right to not testify against you in court. Again, there are some exceptions to this privilege. 

When Exceptions Are Made To Marital Privileges

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Marital Privileges can be waived for specific reasons in cases and certain types of cases. However, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to your spouse testifying against you in court, so be sure to discuss your case with a seasoned criminal defense attorney in Missouri before assuming that your marital privileges will be valid during court. Here are some of the most common times and reasons that marital privilege will be waived: 

  • Revealing Marital Communications to a Third Party: If the information your spouse gives is at any time revealed by either party to another person outside of the marriage. That information is no longer part of “marital communications” and can be used in court. 
  • Non-Secret Communications: If at any time the information was given to or introduced in front of another party, such as through a telephone call or in a public place, this information is not protected by marital privileges. 
  • Divorce: When a couple of divorces, both parties lose their right to invoke the marital privilege. As this article states, “The dissolution of the relationship revokes these protections and does not prevent the one person from testifying against the other person or from explaining about certain issues within the details of the case.”
  • Domestic Violence: In cases of domestic violence, exceptions to marital privilege can be made. The spouse testifying against the aggressor has the right to testify against their spouse or remain silent. Conversely, the aggressor can not invoke marital privileges. A spouse can testify against their spouse in both civil and criminal cases.
  • Abuse in the Household: If there is abuse in the household, that is not towards the other spouse, such as children or another family member, they in most cases, will be able to testify against their spouse. 

Marital privileges can be difficult to understand, and in some jurisdictions, the judge may or may not have their own stipulations for when privileges may be granted and when they will be revoked. This is why it is critical to the outcome of your case, that you hire a criminal defense attorney in Missouri who can help you to understand both the strength and weaknesses of your cases, and how marital privilege may apply to you during court. For more information, contact Missouri Legal to schedule a consultation with our criminal defense team.

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