In a strong unanimous vote, the NJ State Supreme Court ruled that it was time to revise the traditional privacy rights reserved for married couples. In the 7-0 vote, the justices said that an update was needed to the current law, which has some loopholes.
Specifically, the loophole referred to is one where couples may be encouraged to conspire to commit crimes while being protected from scrutiny by the police. Essentially, the loophole would be a way for couples to thwart law enforcement officials.
The vote, though it did not overturn the existing law, was aimed at drawing attention to an oversight in the current rules. The justices felt so strongly about the need for the change that they actually took an extra step, drafting an amendment to the law and sending it to Governor Chris Christie and the state legislature for approval.
“The marital communications privilege is meant to encourage marital harmony, not to protect the planning or commission of crimes,” Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote in his opinion. “The societal purpose behind the privilege is simply not served by safeguarding conversations between spouses about their joint criminal activities.”
If you’re a spouse who has done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear. If the changes are adopted into law, they would apply only to couples who are jointly participating in criminal activities; they would not apply to an innocent spouse who just hears a confession.
This vote to amend the law stems from a 2010 case involving a married couple, along with 20 other people, who allegedly participated in a drug trafficking network. The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office investigated the couple and found communications, via several phone calls and text messages, incriminating one of the spouses. Among the communications was a message indicating where to find a stash of drugs and money.
Although police used this information to seize nearly 12 grams of heroin, the state Supreme Court ruled that the communications could not be used in court against either spouse because of current evidence law, which prohibits prosecutors from introducing records of any marital conversations in a criminal trial unless they were overheard by another party or one of the spouses agrees to it.
John W. Tumelty has over 30 years of experience defending the rights of NJ residents facing criminal charges. If you or someone you love has gotten into legal trouble, contact the Law Offices of John W. Tumelty today.