One of the many things we get from movies, besides entertainment, is a misunderstanding of the law. This happens because writers and directors adapt facts to suit their storyline. This makes sense when the purpose is to entertain, not to inform, teach or provide advice. But many people don’t take the “unreality” of movies and TV shows into account, and as a result, they end up getting the wrong idea about lots of laws.
A good example of this would be the spousal privilege law. Most people have heard references to the fact that “a wife can’t testify against her husband in court.” Yet not many people really understand what the spousal privilege law is, or how it could affect Michigan couples.
Can a person be forced to testify against their spouse in Michigan?
Curious? We thought you’d be. Let’s break it down… Michigan law says that “in a criminal prosecution, a husband shall not be examined as a witness for or against his wife without his consent, or a wife for or against her husband without her consent” except in the following situations:
- In a suit for divorce, separate maintenance, or annulment.
- In a prosecution for bigamy.
- In a prosecution for a crime committed against a child.
- In the case of a personal wrong or injury done by one to the other
- In a case where one spouse doesn’t provide the other spouse or children with suitable support.
- In a case of desertion or abandonment.
Consent is very important in the eyes of the law
The key here is consent of the proposed witness. In Michigan, if a spouse agrees to testify, then they can appear in court and share private information about the spouse. However, if they don’t give consent, then the law says they can’t be forced to give testimony. Unless of course the situation happens to be one of those specifically mentioned as exceptions by Michigan law.
Spousal privilege doesn’t apply to other people beyond your spouse!
This is important, because spousal privilege ONLY applies to your spouse, and ONLY in certain situations. If either spouse passes on confidential information to someone else, that information isn’t considered protected by the spousal privilege law anymore. In other words, the third party can be required to testify in court because they are not the individual’s spouse. So, if a husband shares information with his wife, and his wife then tells that information to a friend, that friend could be compelled to testify.
Can divorced people be forced to testify against each other?
Michigan law states that “a married person or a person who has been married previously, shall not be examined in a criminal prosecution as to any communication made between that person and his or her spouse or former spouse during the marriage without the consent of the person to be examined.” In other words, even after you are divorced, you cannot be forced to testify against your ex!
And finally, the law only applies to a legally married couple. If the marriage isn’t legal for any reason, the privilege wouldn’t apply. It also doesn’t apply to couples living together who aren’t married, even if they share children and a home. This is because Michigan doesn’t recognize common law marriage as being a legal type of marriage.
Still have questions? Come in and talk to us!
We hope this some of the questions you may have about Michigan’s spousal privilege law. However, if you’re involved in a trial and are concerned about what your spouse may say on the witness stand, please contact our experienced criminal defense attorneys at 866 766 5245. We’re available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and can help you deal with all of your legal concerns, regardless of how complex or overwhelming they may seem.