Can Husbands or Wives be Forced to be a Witness Against Their Spouse?

Husband and Wife Testify Against Each Other

Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney

Can spouses be compelled through subpoenas to act as a witness against the other? The answer is yes; at least, sometimes. There are some circumstances where a husband or wife can be compelled by the courts to act as a witness against their husband or wife, even if they don’t want to. Failure to honor a subpoena is contempt of court which can land you in jail. There is a difference between spouses acting as a witness against the other spouse as opposed to divulging privileged communication between husband and wife. This article will mainly discuss when a spouse can act as a witness against their spouse in a court proceeding.

When Can a Spouse Act as a Witness Against the Other Spouse?

The general rule is that a husband or wife cannot be forced to act as a witness, either for or against, the other spouse in criminal cases. However, there are exceptions to this rule. A husband or wife can be compelled to testify as a witness against the other spouse in the following types of court cases:

  • A suit for divorce, separate maintenance (legal separation), or annulment
  • Prosecution for bigamy
  • Prosecution for a crime committed against a child of either or both or a crime committed against an individual younger than 18 years old (e.g. child abuse)
  • Cases involving a personal wrong or injury done by one spouse to the other spouse (e.g. domestic violence, assault and battery)
  • Cases growing out of the refusal or neglect to furnish the spouse or children with suitable support (failure to pay child support)
  • Cases of desertion or abandonment.

Privileged Communication Between Husband and Wife

There are several types of communications that are considered privileged due to the nature of the relationship. That means public policy dictates that the protecting the private communication of those special relationships is greater than society’s need to have it disclosed. Some examples of privileged communication are doctor-patient, clergy-penitent, and lawyer-client. Generally, a spouse cannot be compelled to testify as to communications made between that spouse and the other spouse unless it falls into one of the exceptions previously mentioned. It makes no difference whether they are currently married or are formerly married. What matters is if the communication was made while they were married. If the nature of the communication does not fall into one of the previously listed exceptions, the spouse can only testify if they have the permission of the other spouse (whether current or former).

Lansing Michigan Criminal Defense Lawyer

A spouse cannot refuse to testify against their spouse simply because they are married. Likewise, a spouse who is on trial for domestic violence or child abuse cannot stop his or her spouse from being a witness against them by not giving consent. It doesn’t work that way. If it did, it would be virtually impossible to prosecute for domestic violence, child abuse, or sex crimes involving married couples. If you have been charged with a crime and your spouse is a witness, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. A lawyer with experience in defending domestic violence, criminal sexual conduct, and child abuse charges will know if your spouse can be disqualified as a witness or if certain testimony can be suppressed because of privileged marital communication.

Call Austin Legal Services, PLC to speak to a Michigan criminal defense lawyer today at (517) 614-1983!

Defending domestic violence, criminal sexual conduct (csc), and child abuse charges throughout Michigan in the counties of Ingham, Eaton, Gratiot, Clinton, Jackson, Shiawassee, Calhoun, Kent in the cities of Lansing, East Lansing, Mason, Charlotte, St. Johns, Ithaca, Jackson, Corunna, Battle Creek, and Grand Rapids.