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New Jersey Family Attorneys Comment on Rules of Privileged Marital Communication

February 20, 2013 | Posted In Family Law - Privileged Martial Communication

Husbands and wives may want to watch what they are sending back and forth via e-mail, New Jersey family attorneys warn. In December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that e-mails between a husband and wife were not protected under any marital communication privileges. Spouses cannot always enjoy an expectation of privacy, especially depending on the circumstances.

Philip Hamilton, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates, was sentenced to a nine-year prison term when the Court of Appeals ruled that e-mails between him and his wife were not privileged, and could be used to uphold a bribery conviction. Hamilton worked in the Newport News public school system when he sent the e-mails in question. New Jersey family attorneys say that when Hamilton sent the e-mails, he had no expectation of privacy, according to the policy set forth by the school before the 2009 investigation into Hamilton’s affairs.

As New Jersey family lawyers can explain, privileged marital communication must take place in a private setting, and the school computer system that Hamilton was using is a public forum. The school’s computer-use policy clearly outlines that users cannot expect privacy, and Hamilton had been put on notice by the Newport News school administrators for using the e-mail system for private communication.

Hamilton discussed a financially beneficial scheme with his wife in the e-mails sent on the school’s computer system, and the district court used these e-mails to show that Hamilton did not “take any steps to protect” himself or to keep the exchange private. New Jersey family attorneys say that “voluntary disclosure of communication between spouses…can void the presumed confidentiality of communication.” Hamilton’s e-mails were made public when he sent them from a public account, waiving his right to the privacy of marital communication.

The New Jersey family lawyers at Helmer, Conley and Kasselman, PA urge couples to take steps to ensure their privacy, and to use business e-mail accounts wisely. As people become increasingly dependent on e-mail as a form of communication, and as laws shift to serve our growing technology users, spouses must be careful to understand where they can expect privacy, and where their communications are considered public property.

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