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Letters to Ministers and the Clergy-Penitent Privilege

When is written communication protected?

Key point: In some cases, a letter written to a minister may be covered by the "clergy-penitent privilege" and accordingly be immune from involuntary disclosure in a court of law. However, this may not be the case if the letter is left open in plain view in the author's home, since under these circumstances the communication may not be "confidential".

• A New Jersey court ruled that a letter written by a murderer to his pastor, and left in plain view in his home after he killed 5 members of his family, was not protected from disclosure in court by the clergy-penitent privilege since it was not considered "confidential". The facts of this case are tragic. One morning after his three children had gone to school, a man (the "defendant") shot and killed his wife while she was sitting at the breakfast table. He then proceeded to the third floor of his home where his mother lived and ...

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  • September 1, 1994

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