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Priviliged relationships in criminal judicial proceedings

California residents facing criminal charges are able to speak openly with their lawyers because communication between defense attorneys and their clients is privileged. This protection is in place to ensure that the accused are able to mount an effective defense. While this form of protected communication is widely known, communication between spouses and doctors or psychotherapists and their patients are also considered privileged by federal and most state courts.

Spousal privilege is based on the concept that promoting matrimonial harmony is in the public interest, but federal and state courts may have different interpretations of the rule. Most state courts allow criminal defendants to prevent their spouses from giving evidence against them in any situation, but federal judges could allow spouses to testify if they wish to. Federal courts take this position because a marriage with one spouse who wishes to testify against the other is considered to be not worthy of the privilege.

Defendants in criminal cases can generally prevent health care professionals that they have seen from revealing details of their medical conditions or treatment plans. This privilege covers communication with doctors and psychotherapists, and some states even protect discussions with dentists and nurses. However, only conversations dealing with the defendant's medical situation are protected, and prosecutors are free to ask healthcare professionals about other matters.

Privileged communication protects the rights of the accused, defends the institution of marriage and prevents professionals from being compelled to violate their ethical obligations. Those accused of committing crimes must be able to speak candidly with their criminal defense attorneys, but they should also understand that lawyers are not permitted to introduce evidence that they know is untrue. This means that defendants who have admitted their guilt during privileged conversations will rarely be called upon to testify in court.

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