Court Discusses Spousal Privilege in Recent Arizona DUI Case

Under Arizona law, there is a general rule that a person who is charged with a crime can prevent their spouse from testifying against them. This is even the case if the other spouse wants to testify against the spouse who is charged with a crime. The rule, called the anti-marital fact privilege, or spousal privilege, has its roots in the common law and has been a part of Arizona law since the beginning of the state’s formation.

Arizona’s spousal privilege has a number of exceptions that can prevent its application. The most common exception is called the “crimes exception” and involves a situation in which one spouse is charged with a crime that was committed against the other spouse. A recent Arizona DUI case illustrates the crimes exception to Arizona’s spousal privilege statute.

The Facts

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant’s husband (Husband) called police because the defendant was trying to leave their home while she was intoxicated. Husband attempted to park one of the couple’s other vehicles behind the defendant’s minivan to prevent her from leaving, but the defendant got into the minivan and backed into the other vehicle. The defendant was later arrested and charged with DUI and causing criminal damage.

Before the trial began, the defendant argued that Husband could not testify against her in the DUI charges based on her spousal privilege. The defendant conceded, however, that Husband could testify against her regarding the criminal damage charge because the damage she allegedly caused was to property that Husband jointly owned. The trial court agreed with the defendant, and severed the DUI charges from the criminal damage charge. The prosecution appealed.

On appeal court held that Husband should be allowed to testify against the defendant because the two sets of charges were based on the same “unitary event.” The court explained that once a judge determines that the crimes exception applies, then the witness spouse can testify about any other crimes that arose from the same unitary event. In other words, the court held that the lower court’s interpretation of the crimes exception was too narrow.

Here, the court explained that the DUI charge and the criminal damage charge both were based on the defendant’s “alleged intoxication and subsequent reckless behavior in trying to drive the mini-van.” Thus, the court held that Husband should be allowed to testify about any other crimes that resulted from the defendant’s conduct. Because the application of the spousal privilege was the sole basis for the severance of the charges, the court also held that when the case proceeds the charges should not be severed.

Have You Been Charged with a Crime?

If you have recently been charged with an Arizona DUI, you should contact a dedicated Tempe DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Attorney James E. Novak is an experienced Arizona DUI defense attorney with extensive experience handling a wide range of DUI cases, including those presenting unique and complex issues. To learn more about how Attorney Novak can help you defend against the charges you are currently facing, call 480-413-1499 to schedule your free consultation today.

Additional Resources:

Other Articles of Interest from The Law Office of James Novak’s Phoenix DUI Blog:

Court Holds Reasonable Suspicion Exists to Pull Over Vehicle if Owner’s License Is Suspended, Phoenix DUI Law Blog, November 13, 2018

Court Allows Results of Defendant’s Blood Test to Show Her Knowledge of the Drugs That Were Found in Her Car, Phoenix DUI Law Blog, November 29, 2018

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