Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Confidential and Privileged Communications - Part 1
A New Jersey court ruled that statements made by a murder suspect to a deacon were not protected from disclosure by the clergy-penitent privilege.
Key pointThe Clergy-Penitent Privilege In order for the clergy-penitent privilege to apply there must be a communication that is made to a minister.
Key pointThe Clergy-Penitent Privilege In order for the clergy-penitent privilege to apply there must be a communication that is made to a minister acting in a professional capacity as a spiritual adviser.

A New Jersey court ruled that statements made by a murder suspect to a deacon were not protected from disclosure by the clergy-penitent privilege. An adult male ("David") was involved in a fight outside a restaurant. Later that night he returned to the restaurant and fired several gun shots into the store, striking two bystanders. One of the bystanders was injured, and the other was killed. The following Sunday David attended his church. After attending the morning service, David met privately with the pastor, apparently to seek spiritual guidance regarding the altercation and how he should proceed. After meeting with the pastor, David indicated that he wanted to surrender to the police. At that point the pastor summoned a recently ordained deacon who was a state trooper. The three met in the pastor's office. The deacon introduced himself as a deacon in the church and also disclosed that he was a state trooper. During this meeting, David began to discuss the altercation, and at that point the deacon reminded him of his right to remain silent. The deacon also had David stand against a wall and searched him for any weapons. David continued to talk about the incident. At some point in the meeting all three men prayed together. When David was finished with his remarks, the deacon called the police and told David that he was no longer free to leave. The police arrived a few minutes later, and arrested David.

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Posted: July 2, 2001
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