EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Duty Bound: Huntsville Times Article About Minister Sexual Abuse Deals With Priest-Penitent Privilege

An article from Monday's Huntsville Times is entitled "Who under Alabama law must report child abuse or face possible jail time?" The article deals with allegations of covered-up sexual abuse committed by the church's youth minister Mack Allen Davis. And the article also deals with Alabama Rule of Evidence 505.

As the article notes, pursuant to Alabama Code Section 26-14-3(a),

All hospitals, clinics, sanitariums, doctors, physicians, surgeons, medical examiners, coroners, dentists, osteopaths, optometrists, chiropractors, podiatrists, nurses, school teachers and officials, peace officers, law enforcement officials, pharmacists, social workers, day care workers or employees, mental health professionals, members of the clergy as defined in Rule 505 of the Alabama Rules of Evidence, or any other person called upon to render aid or medical assistance to any child, when the child is known or suspected to be a victim of child abuse or neglect, shall be required to report, or cause a report to be made of the same, orally, either by telephone or direct communication immediately, followed by a written report, to a duly constituted authority.

In turn, however, Alabama Rule of Evidence 505 places limitations on this reporting requirement. Pursuant to Rule of Evidence 505(b),

If any person shall communicate with a clergyman in the clergyman's professional capacity and in a confidential manner, then that person or the clergyman shall have a privilege to refuse to disclose, and to prevent another from disclosing, that confidential communication.

So, in other words, if a minister saw another minister sexually abusing a minor, he would have a duty to disclose pursuant to Alabama Code Section 26-14-3(a). But if, say, a father confidentially confessed to a minister that he sexually abused his child, the minister would not only lack a duty to disclose but in fact would have a duty to keep the communication confidential under Alabama Rule of Evidence 505.



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