As a criminal defendant, almost anything you say can be introduced later in court. However, some communications are kept private because of a privilege. Depending on the circumstances, you might be able to strengthen your defense by keeping certain statements away from the jury. Some of the more important testimonial privileges include the following:
The lawyer-client privilege is one of the oldest privileges and is the foundation of a healthy legal system. Imagine if your lawyer could be forced to testify against you! People would probably not seek out legal help and they certainly wouldn’t be honest with their attorneys. To encourage people to hire lawyers, the law protects communications between you and your lawyer.
According to Florida Rule of Evidence 90.501, the lawyer-client privilege applies if the following elements are met:
- You made a communication with a person authorized to practice law
- The communication was intended to be private
- The purpose of the communication was to seek legal advice
The lawyer-client privilege won’t help you if you hired a lawyer to help advance a fraudulent or criminal scheme, but in all other situations, you can keep your lawyer from testifying against you.
In Florida, this is called the “Husband-Wife” privilege and is codified in Rule 90.504. Under the rule, communications “which were intended to be made in confidence between the spouses while they were husband and wife” are privileged. Either spouse might claim the privilege. For example, if a wife wants to testify about statements her husband made, the husband can block her from revealing those statements.
The rule has some meaningful exceptions. For example, the privilege doesn’t apply where one spouse is being prosecuted for a crime against the other spouse or their children. Accordingly, if one spouse is prosecuted for domestic violence, they can’t use the spousal privilege to block testimony.
This privilege can be useful in white-collar cases, where a criminal defendant has worked with an accountant on a matter that is now before the government. The accountant must be a certified public accountant or a public accountant, and the communication must have been intended to be confidential and for the purposes of seeking accounting services.
Like the lawyer-client privilege, an exception exists if you hired the accountant to help you commit a fraud or other crime. The client holds the key to the confidences, so the accountant cannot reveal confidential information without the client’s authorization.
Florida law also protects communications to members of the clergy, including rabbis, priests, and ministers of various religious denominations. A communication is privileged (and thus protected) if it was made for the purposes of “seeking spiritual counsel.” The communicant, and not the clergy member, can claim the privilege.
Call a St. Petersburg Criminal Defense Attorney
If you’ve been charged with a state or federal crime, you need an aggressive criminal defense attorney who can keep as much incriminating evidence out of court as possible. At Khonsari Law Group, we work tirelessly on behalf of our clients to build their strongest defense. Contact us for a free consultation at (727) 269-5300.