child abuse, marital privileges


In prosecutions for child abuse, the government’s most valuable witness is often the defendant’s spouse. Ordinarily, the marital privileges allow a witness to refuse to testify or a defendant to bar his or her spouse’s testimony. When a defendant is on trial for a crime committed against a child, however, the privileges are unavailable. Although this exception aims to serve justice on behalf of innocent children, its applicability often hinges on the relationship between perpetrator and victim. In some federal courts, the minor victim must be the child or stepchild of the defendant, while others have held the exception applicable even when the child is not related to the defendant. This Note addresses the injustice inherent in such a distinction, which protects some child victims of abuse better than others. Beginning with a background of the child abuse exception in federal courts, this Note then presents the current forms of the exception across the federal courts of appeals as well as in military courts-martial. Ultimately, this Note concludes that because the effective prosecution of child abusers is more important than the preservation of the defendant’s marriage, all federal courts should adopt an exception that would eliminate the marital privileges in prosecutions for the abuse of any child, regardless of the child’s relationship to the defendant.

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