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Privileged relationships in criminal cases

Tennessee residents may know that individuals charged with a crime can be candid with their attorneys safe in the knowledge that the matters discussed will be considered privileged and cannot be subsequently introduced in court against them. While the protection that covers communication between those accused of committing crimes and their lawyers may be the most widely recognized type of legal privilege, there are a number of other forms of protected communication.

Federal and state courts sometimes interpret privileged relationships differently. In most state courts, defendants can prevent their spouses from giving evidence against them even if they wish to, but federal courts have a different view of spousal privilege. Federal judges may allow the spouses of defendants to testify if they want to because the desire to give evidence is seen as a clear sign that the marriage does not warrant protection.

Defendants in criminal cases can also prevent medical professionals such as doctors or psychotherapists from providing prosecutors with evidence in certain situations. Some states extend this form of privilege to cover nurses and dentists. However, the scope of this protection is often narrow, and matters discussed between defendants and their medical providers will generally be allowed if they are unrelated to medical conditions or their treatment.

The law protects certain forms of communication because preserving the integrity of marriage and some professional relationships is viewed as being in the public interest. While the communication between criminal defense attorneys and their clients may be protected, admissions of guilt made by defendants to their lawyers will generally preclude them from being called upon to testify in their own defense. This is because attorneys have an ethical responsibility to not submit evidence during judicial proceedings that they know to be untrue.

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