It’s not a privilege children have

I always counsel clients and family that there is NO parent-child privilege in courts-martial under the UCMJ (or in civilian court for that matter).  This is important to know and for the military defense lawyer to make clear at the earliest opportunity.  Any communications between a child and the parent can be used in evidence if known.  That doesn’t mean military investigators or military prosecutors can force a parent to disclose information – well except by subpoena as a court-martial witness.  A parent is free to decline to be interviewed if they want. During initial discussions with your military defense lawyer it is always important to discuss the limits to do with privileged communications.  Reading the UCMJ, the Manual for Courts-Martial, and the Military Rules of Evidence, you can get a good basic overview.  Remember, it is always better to discuss specifics with your military law attorney. Rules of evidentiary privilege are found in Rules 501 to 514 of the Military Rules of Evidence (MRE).  The most common privileges you hear about are the attorney-client, the spousal privilege for the accused and for the non-accused spouse, the psychiatrist-patient privilege, and the clergy privilege.  Each of these rules, except for MRE 514 are long-standing and well developed.  The two more recent developments have been the exception where spouses are substantially and jointly involved in (the same) criminal activity, and the addition of the “victim advocate – victim privilege.”  The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces had rejected the joint crime exception because that was not in the Rule at the time.  See United States v. Custis, 65 M.J. 366 (C.A.A.F. 2007).  There is still some ambiguity and perhaps confusion whether there is an exception to a privilege through forfeiture by wrongdoing.  See e.g., United States v. Marchesano, 67 M.J. 535 (A. Ct.Crim. App. 2008), pet. denied 67 M.J. 371 (C.A.A.F. 2009). Under the UCMJ there is no parent-child privilege, nor  is there one in any MRE.  See United States v. Landes, 17 M.J. 1092 (A.F.C.M.R. 1983); United States v. Kelly, ACM 26707, 1988 CMR LEXIS 719 (A.F.C.M.R. September 2, 1988)(unpub.).  And in light of the analysis in Custis, it is unlikely the appellate courts can graft one on.  This is consistent with federal court practice. Recently the Fourth Circuit has ruled that a federal trial judge erred by “adopting the parent-child privilege and excusing” a nineteen year old son “from testifying before the grand jury” in a firearm investigation involving his father[.] In Under Seal v. United States, _ F.3d _ (4th Cir. June 16, 2014) (No. 13–4933);

 The Fourth Circuit declined to apply a parent-child privilege. In reaching this conclusion, the circuit noted: “No federal appellate court has recognized a parent-child privilege, and we decline to do so here.” In particular, the circuit noted that “Doe Jr. has not made a strong showing of need for the parent-child privilege, and ‘reason and experience’ do not warrant creation of the privilege in the face of substantial authority to the contrary. Fed. R. Evid. 501.” Under Seal, _ F.3d at _ (citation omitted). In arriving at this decision, the circuit canvassed the cases that have considered the issue at the district court and circuit levels.

Thanks to federalevidence.com for bringing this to our attention. In addition to the Fourth, the Second, Third, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh federal circuits agree.  Federal evidence review blog notes that district courts in Nevada, Connecticut, and Washington do seem to have recognized such a privilege. Regardless, a military accused and his parents should continue to exercise care in what discussions they have about an alleged offense.  There may be a limited way to create privileged communications, but it is not under any sort of parent-child privilege.  But these are matters to be discussed with the military defense lawyer first.