Recent Developments in Mississippi Regarding Confidential and Privileged Communications

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that a communication made by a prison inmate to a deacon was not protected by the clergy-penitent privilege.

Church Law and Tax1999-07-01

Confidential and Privileged Communications

Key point. In order for the clergy-penitent privilege to apply there must be a communication that is made to a minister.

The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that a communication made by a prison inmate to a deacon was not protected by the clergy-penitent privilege. A murder suspect (the “defendant”) was incarcerated in a county jail while awaiting trial. A church deacon regularly visited the jail, sometimes with his pastor, to provide spiritual assistance to the inmates. On one occasion, the deacon was meeting with several inmates and discussing their Christian duty to forgive in order to be forgiven. The defendant was listening to this discussion, and at one point asked the deacon to come and speak with him. He asked the deacon if one had to forgive someone who killed their mother or father. The deacon replied that one could not refuse to forgive another for anything and still claim to serve God. At the close of their conversation, the defendant shook the deacon’s hand, and said “you have got to forgive all.” The deacon later testified in the defendant’s murder trial, and repeated their conversation. The defendant insisted that the conversation was protected by the clergy-penitent privilege, and should not have been admitted. Rule 505 of the Mississippi Rules of Evidence sets forth the clergy-penitent privilege for that state. It specifies that “a person has a privilege to refuse to disclose and prevent another from disclosing a confidential communication by the person to a clergyman in his professional character as spiritual adviser.” The rule defines a “clergyman” as “a minister, priest, rabbi or other similar functionary of a church, religious organization, or religious denomination.”

The court concluded:

[A deacon] is not a clergyman within the plain meaning of the definition of Rule 505, which states that “a clergyman is a minister, priest, rabbi or other similar functionary of a church, religious organization, or religious denomination …. [The deacon] testified quite clearly that he was not a minister and did not purport to be one, even though he did discuss spiritual issues in the abstract with people as part of the exercise of his faith. He also testified that anyone from his church, not just deacons, could go and provide the same type of consolation to inmates. He expressly stated that he did not discuss personal problems with the inmates as part of his spiritual tutoring. Thus, we conclude that [the deacon] was not acting in the role of minister within the plain meaning of the rule.

Application. It is common for nonminister church volunteers to provide spiritual counseling and support to inmates in local jails. This case illustrates the principle, recognized in most if not all states, that communications must be made to a minister in order to be protected by the clergy-penitent privilege. Some states define the term “minister” to include a person who is thought to be a minister by a counselee. But this was not the case here, since the Mississippi clergy-penitent privilege does not contain such an exception, and even if it did, the defendant clearly knew that the deacon was not a minister. Banks v. State, 725 So.2d 711 (Miss. 1998). [The Clergy-Penitent Privilege ]

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations." Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

ajax-loader-largecaret-downcloseHamburger Menuicon_amazonApple PodcastsBio Iconicon_cards_grid_caretChild Abuse Reporting Laws by State IconChurchSalary Iconicon_facebookGoogle Podcastsicon_instagramLegal Library IconLegal Library Iconicon_linkedinLock IconMegaphone IconOnline Learning IconPodcast IconRecent Legal Developments IconRecommended Reading IconRSS IconSubmiticon_select-arrowSpotify IconAlaska State MapAlabama State MapArkansas State MapArizona State MapCalifornia State MapColorado State MapConnecticut State MapWashington DC State MapDelaware State MapFederal MapFlorida State MapGeorgia State MapHawaii State MapIowa State MapIdaho State MapIllinois State MapIndiana State MapKansas State MapKentucky State MapLouisiana State MapMassachusetts State MapMaryland State MapMaine State MapMichigan State MapMinnesota State MapMissouri State MapMississippi State MapMontana State MapMulti State MapNorth Carolina State MapNorth Dakota State MapNebraska State MapNew Hampshire State MapNew Jersey State MapNew Mexico IconNevada State MapNew York State MapOhio State MapOklahoma State MapOregon State MapPennsylvania State MapRhode Island State MapSouth Carolina State MapSouth Dakota State MapTennessee State MapTexas State MapUtah State MapVirginia State MapVermont State MapWashington State MapWisconsin State MapWest Virginia State MapWyoming State IconShopping Cart IconTax Calendar Iconicon_twitteryoutubepauseplay