Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Murder Suspect's Statements to Church Employee Not Privileged
Key point 2-07.3. In order for the clergy-penitent privilege to apply there must be a communication that is made to a minister.
Key point 2-08.05. In most states a counselee can waive the clergy-penitent privilege by disclosing the privileged communication to someone other than the minister. In some states the minister also may waive the privilege.

A Louisiana court ruled that inculpatory statements made by a murder suspect to a church employee were not protected from disclosure by the clergy-penitent privilege because the employee was not a minister and the privilege had been waived. A murder suspect (the "defendant") confided in a lay church employee who worked in "congregational care" that he had killed someone. The defendant gave the employee some names and telephone numbers of people, and he asked the employee to contact the people and tell them he was "not a monster" and that he did not mean to kill the victim. The defendant stated that he would eventually turn himself in. The employee told him that he could give him until 2 p.m. the following day to do so. If he failed to do so, the employee said he would call the police. When the defendant failed to turn himself in by the deadline, the employee contacted the police and disclosed everything the defendant had told him.

The defendant was found guilty of manslaughter. The church employee testified for the prosecution at the trial, and fully disclosed his conversations with the defendant. The defendant appealed his conviction, claiming that his conversations with the church employee were protected by the clergy-penitent privilege and should not have been disclosed to the jury. The appeals court disagreed.

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