Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Marital Criming Was Protected

The New Jersey Supreme Court has held that the marital communications privilege was not (as is the attorney-client privilege) subject to the crime-fraud exception prior to a legislative enactment

In this appeal of defendant Ashley D. Bailey’s conviction of two counts of second-degree official misconduct, we determine whether the crime-fraud exception to the marital communications privilege governed text messages that defendant exchanged with her husband on September 16, 2014 -- after the Court proposed the exception, but before the Legislature enacted it into law.

The trial court held that the crime-fraud exception properly applied to the text messages without raising ex post facto concerns and admitted the messages into evidence at defendant’s trial. The Appellate Division affirmed.

We disagree that the crime-fraud exception can be properly applied to marital communications that preceded the Legislature’s amendment of N.J.R.E. 509. We find no evidence that the Legislature intended that amendment to retroactively apply to otherwise privileged marital communications that occurred prior to that amendment. We therefore hold that the trial court’s admission of the text messages constituted error. However, we view that error to be harmless given the extensive evidence presented by the State in support of defendant’s official misconduct convictions.

Accordingly, we modify and affirm the Appellate Division’s judgment.

(Mike Frisch)


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