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A Murder Confession to a Pastor Not Considered Privileged

The defendant waived clergy-penitent privilege by sharing substantial statements with others.

Key point 3-08.05. 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.

The Supreme Judicial Court of Maine ruled that a murder suspect’s confession to a pastor was not protected from disclosure at his trial by the clergy-penitent privilege because the privilege had been waived.

Background

In 1980, a 16-year-old girl was abducted and murdered by a teenage boy (the “defendant”) while jogging in her neighborhood. The body was found the next day in a wooded area near a public high school. Although the defendant was identified as a suspect in the victim's death early on in the investigation, he was not questioned during the first months of the investigation because of injuries he suffered in a car accident.

A year after the murder, ...

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