Spousal Privilege Exercised in Pennsylvania Courts

Spousal Privilege

Spousal privilege is a law existing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania mandating that any communications made during a marital relationship between two individuals is confidential information and therefore prevents a husband or wife from testifying in a court of law against their spouse.

SMT Legal is here to not only explain spousal privilege so that Pennsylvania residents can better understand the mandate but provide the context in the case that under one of our Pittsburgh criminal defense attorneys the question of spousal privilege arises.

The Superior Court Tested In Million-Dollar Fraud Case

Spousal privilege is a complicated issue. It has unique limitations and can be quite restrictive in a court of law. Following a 2016 suit between the Cavanagh family and C.A.P. Glass Incorporated, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that Mrs. Cavanagh could prevent her husband from releasing private conversations between the two in testimony on grounds of spousal privilege.

Spousal privilege (also known as marital privilege) prevents a husband or wife from being mandated to testify against their spouse and releasing any kinds of oral, written, expressional, and gestural communication made between the two during their marriage. This strength of this Pennsylvania legislation is continued through both death and divorce.

Spousal privilege is the exact type of legislation that was enacted upon John Cavanagh when his wife was attempting to block his testimony that would bring details of their $1.5 million fraudulent check scheme to light. She was enabled to commit such an act working as an accountant at C.A.P. Glass Incorporated.

In a near-miss scenario, a trial court had illegally removed spousal privilege from Mrs.Cavanagh by placing a fraud exemption on the case. This decision meant that the former accountant’s husband was instructed to testify before the court on the fraudulent check scheme.

Lisa Cavanagh contested that the fraud exemption was a mistake and that the statute concerning confidential communications between two spouses, in this case, her and her husband, did not include an exemption of fraud. To her relief, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania agreed with her.

Spousal privilege is public policy in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Not existent in the United States Constitution or any other forms of federal law, it mandates that confidential spousal communication should be preserved to maintain marital harmony. The purpose for this privilege is that the preservation of marital harmony will ultimately benefit the greater good of society, as marriage is an inherent reality to many Commonwealth citizens and their families. The legal representation of the Cavanaghs commented on the Superior Court’s decision, exclaiming his gratification “that the court would give respect to the sanctity of the marital relationship in this day and age.”

Limitations and How It May Be Used

Despite the power that spousal privilege can hold in a court of law, it does have some limitations. First, this power extends only to knowledge gained during the marriage, as any and all knowledge gained before or after the time that the two were legally married is technically not protected. While it does apply to oral, written material, expressions, and even gestures, any observable actions are also not protected under the statute. Spousal privilege is a critical issue of interest, most notably in lawsuits involving illegal drugs, firearms, or other paraphernalia such as money schemes as seen in the case of Lisa and John Cavanagh.

By educating the public on important issues and topics, SMT Legal wants to provide the best possible service to the western Pennsylvania region. If you or a loved one is seeking a Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney, please consider contacting us .

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