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New NJ Bill Aims to Reduce Spousal Privilege

New Jersey legislators have introduced a new bill that would make it easier to force married couples to testify against one another. The bill would change the circumstances under which a person could claim spousal privilege as a means to avoid testifying against his or her spouse.

The current law governing marital privilege is broad in its application and gives couples protection from testifying in circumstances when it would harm a spouse. It states specifically that a spouse cannot disclose communication made in confidence unless both spouses consent to the disclosure. This means that if a couple does not wish to share the communication, they may invoke spousal privilege and keep the information private. The only other circumstance in which marital communication must be shared is when the communication is needed to prove the fact of a marriage.

Lawmakers in New Jersey wish to expand the law because they argue it is abused and protects communication that is materially relevant to successful prosecution of crimes. Under the new bill, a spouse would be required to testify against his or her husband or wife if, before they were married, one of the spouses was a witness to a criminal action of his or her partner and was aware of an investigation surrounding this action.

In addition, the new legislation would deny marital privilege to couples where one handles evidence related to the criminal action if his or her handling changes the nature of the evidence or disrupts the chain of custody. In other words, if a spouse tampers with evidence, he or she loses the right to assert spousal privilege under the new law.

While this law would dramatically change the scope of the spousal privilege protection currently afforded to New Jersey couples, it has not yet passed and the current rule is still the law. Critics of the new bill argue that spousal privilege is an important part of a marriage and all communication within that relationship should be protected out of respect for the sanctity of marriage.

If you are currently facing charges involving your spouse or in which you may be asked to testify against your spouse, remain aware of your right to claim spousal privilege. Consult a criminal defense attorney in New Jersey to learn more.

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