Text Message Conversations Between Spouses are Generally Confidential Marital Communications, According to Maryland Court’s Ruling

Any criminal defendant should seek out strong defense counsel, but this need is especially true if you are facing charges likely to arouse powerful emotions and inflame passions. A skilled Maryland homicide defense attorney can help ensure that, even in the face of great community desire for retribution, the accused receives a fair trial in which his rights are fully protected and his defense is presented zealously and persuasively.

One case with such a set of emotional facts was a murder trial in which the victim was a young child. Kevin stood trial for the murder of his three-year-old nephew. The uncle was accused of beating, shaking, and slamming the boy so severely while babysitting the nephew that the child died two days later. In Kevin’s case, one of the key pieces of evidence the prosecution used was a series of text messages that Kevin exchanged with his wife, Amanda. The prosecution intended for the text messages to show what appeared to be Kevin’s progressively increasing degree of agitation and frustration with the child. The messages also included Kevin’s admission that he bit the child and that the boy “bruises easy.” After considering this and all of the other evidence, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on the charge of first-degree murder.

Kevin appealed and succeeded in getting his conviction overturned. The key to the accused man’s successful appeal was the admission into evidence of the text messages he exchanged with his wife throughout the morning and afternoon in which he was babysitting the victim. The Court of Special Appeals agreed with the accused man that the text message exchange was protected by the privilege covering marital communications.

Some but not all marital communications are covered by this privilege. Generally, if there is proof that the couple did not intend for the communication to be private, it’s not confidential. For example, a message left on an answering machine may not be confidential. Contrary to the state’s arguments, when two spouses communicate through text messages exchanged across two cell phones, that does not amount to proof that they did not intend their correspondence to be a private marital communication.

As the appeals court pointed out, many cell phones have features that allow users to lock their screens and prevent third parties from reading their texts. The prosecution needed something more to show that the spouses did not intend this text message exchange to be private, and the state lacked that proof. As a result, the text conversation was confidential and should not have been admitted into evidence in Kevin’s trial.

As a criminal defendant, there are many strategies that go into putting on a successful defense. One vital component is excluding from your trial any evidence that is privileged or otherwise confidential. Arguments about privilege and confidentiality are just two of many areas in which a knowledgeable defense attorney can be essential to your case. Skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been providing reliable defense representation to the accused in Maryland for many years. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

How an Accused Man Turned a Baltimore Judge’s Error into a Reversal of His First-Degree Murder Conviction, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Jan. 12, 2018

How a Flaw in Jury Instructions Allowed a Maryland Murder Defendant to Secure a New Trial, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Sept. 7, 2017


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