You may have heard that one spouse cannot testify in court against the other spouse under something known as “spousal privilege.” The idea behind the rule is that marriage is a sacred union and a married couple should be able to freely share their secrets with each other.
Is that really true?
“Spousal privilege” is something that has been outright eliminated in many states altogether. It still exists in Florida, but the privilege is limited and does not apply in all situations.
Under Florida law, a spouse cannot be compelled to testify against their spouse in a criminal case, except in cases involving domestic violence, child abuse, or neglect. In these cases, the spousal privilege does not apply and the spouse may be required to testify against their partner.
When does spousal privilege apply in Florida?
The privilege to refuse to testify about anything they were told in confidence during the marriage. This means that they can be compelled to testify about something that they learned from their partner before they were married. In other words, a couple can’t hurry up and get married on the eve of an indictment or prosecution and claim spousal privilege to avoid testifying about their earlier communications.
Additionally, if the crime charged involves a joint offense committed by both spouses, the spousal privilege may not be available. For example, if both spouses were involved in a conspiracy to commit a crime, they may not be able to claim spousal privilege to avoid testifying against each other. It also isn’t available when one spouse is accused of domestic violence against the other or their child, or when one spouse is charged with a crime against the other’s property.
Finally, spousal communications aren’t privileged when they were made in the hearing of another person. For example, if you discussed your stock market dealings with your spouse in the nanny’s hearing or when your brother-in-law was in the room because those conversations would not be confidential.
If you are facing criminal charges and have concerns about spousal privilege, it is important to discuss the specifics of your situation with someone who can advise you on your legal rights.