Privacy in Marriages: Can My Spouse Be Forced to Testify Against Me?

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jan 24, 2023 | 0 Comments

Every person who has watched an episode of Law & Order or another courtroom drama has inevitably come across a scene where one spouse refuses to testify against the other. While dramatic courtroom scenes may work for good TV, how much of this privilege extends to real life, and what are the rules about spousal privileges in Pennsylvania?

What is Spousal Privilege?

Spousal privilege is a legal concept that recognizes the special relationship that people who are married have with each other. Spouses in a marriage should feel free to share things with each other openly without fear that what they say to their spouse can be held against them later on. However, this expectation of privacy between spouses is not absolute and can be limited in several ways.

In general, spousal privilege means that one spouse cannot be forced to testify against the other or about what the other said to them in confidence during either a criminal or a civil trial. The privilege is not a constitutional right and is not absolute. Exceptions to the privilege exist depending on the type of testimony, the type of case, and the circumstances surrounding the evidence.

Spousal Testimonial Privilege

In Pennsylvania, the law regarding spousal testimony privilege (42 Pa. Cons. Stat. 5913) states that in a criminal case, a spouse cannot be forced to testify against their legally married partner unless:

  • The case is regarding the accused spouse's desertion or abandonment
  • The case is regarding the accused spouse's violence against children related to the couple
  • The case is regarding bigamy in the accused spouse's marriage
  • The case is a criminal proceeding involving charges of murder, rape, or involuntary deviant sexual intercourse.

It is important to note that the privilege against testifying against your spouse is voluntary—while one spouse has the option not to testify against the other, that privilege can be waived if the testifying spouse so chooses.

Confidential Communications Privilege

In addition to a privilege against spousal testimony, Pennsylvania law also protects the contents of the conversations that married people have with each other (42 Pa. Cons. Stat. 5914). In this case, both participants in the conversation own the privilege and cannot testify as to what they talked about unless that privilege is waived at trial.

Not all conversations count as confidential marital conversations. Conversations that a married couple has in front of other people or out in public where they can be overheard are not privileged. The privilege also only covers conversations during the marriage—those had prior to marriage or after a divorce are not covered. However, divorce does not break the privilege, and the contents of a conversation that a now-divorced couple had during the course of their marriage would still be protected.

Get Help Protecting Your Rights at Trial

Spousal privilege in Pennsylvania means that the law recognizes a married couple's right to a private, confidential relationship. In many instances where one spouse is accused of a crime, the husband or wife will not be forced to choose between supporting their spouse and complying with the prosecution's demands. If you have been accused of a crime in Pennsylvania and are wondering how it will affect your spouse, retain experienced criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and learn more. Call 888.535.3686 today and speak with the Lento Law Firm now.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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