A bill proposed by state Sen. James Holzapfel (R-Ocean) that would create a crime-fraud exception to what is commonly known as “marital privilege” has advanced in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Holzapfel, a former Ocean County prosecutor, proposed the bill following a 2014 decision by the state Supreme Court that ruled evidence obtained through a wiretap would not be admissible in the trial of a suspected drug trafficker because the defendant was discussing the alleged criminal activity with his wife. Marital privilege is meant to protect spousal communications, but many states have adopted crime and fraud exceptions to the rule; New Jersey had not.
The case, State v. Terry, originated in Ocean County, with the wiretaps in question having been performed by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. Though the Supreme Court ruled that the evidence obtained through the wiretap could not be used against Teron Savoy and his wife, Yolanda Terry, the justices urged the state legislature to adopt an exception that could be used in future cases.
“The purpose of this bill is to thwart ongoing criminal conspiracies that hide behind an evidentiary privilege designed to protect the sanctity of marriage,” said Holzapfel, in a statement.
The bill would formally amend the Evidence Act of 1960 to establish a crime-fraud exception to the marital and civil union partnership communications privilege.
A companion bill, sponsored by General Assembly members Dave Wolfe and Gregory P. McGuckin (both R-Ocean), is pending in that legislative body.
“We believe that by amending the statute this will allow law enforcement to use the evidence lawfully obtained through wiretaps when spouses or civil partners are engaging in criminal activities such as drug trafficking, as was charged in State v. Terry,” McGuckin said.