I represented a client that was charged with second degree assault. The alleged victim was her husband. My client’s husband was also charged with second degree assault and the alleged victim was my client.
Neither, my client or her husband wanted to pursue their cases against one another. The Assistant State’s Attorney and I agreed to allow my client to invoke her spousal privilege in her case against her husband. Additionally, my client’s husband and his Assistant Public Defender agreed to do the same in the case against my client.
The Maryland spousal privilege precludes a person from being compelled to testify against their spouse who is charged with a crime.
Even if the two are estranged at the time of trial, the privilege remains applicable until the marriage is officially annulled or dissolved.
The only exceptions are when: 1) the defendant/spouse is charged with abuse of a child under 18; and 2) the defendant/spouse is charged with assault of the other spouse and, in a previous trial of the same nature, the other spouse invoked the spousal privilege and refused to testify.
It’s important to note that invoking the spousal privilege does not require the exclusion of an otherwise admissible out-of-court statement by that spouse.
The procedure in court is to call the victim/wife’s case against her husband and have the victim/wife take the stand. The State will then ask the victim/wife questions regarding her marriage. Finally, the State will ask the victim/wife if they wish to invoke their spousal privilege. If the answer is “yes,” then the State will rest its case. The victim/wife’s criminal defense attorney will then make a motion for judgment of acquittal, which the court will grant.
This is exactly what happened in my case today in the District Court of Maryland.