Jewish Journal

Murder confession to minister can be admissible evidence

by Brad A. Greenberg

September 23, 2010 | 9:56 am

It seems that half of the movies involving Catholic criminals open with a remorseful/belligerent crook sitting in Confession. But that confession between sinner and priest may not be privileged and confidential. At least not in some circumstances.

In Montana, a judge recently held that the confidentiality of a confession to a minister could be waived. Howard M. Friedman of the Religion Clause explains how:

In State v. Hardman, 2010 Mont. Dist. LEXIS 209 (MT Dist. Ct., May 21, 2010), the court concluded that the pastor’s report to police of the confession was admissible because the pastor told defendant before he began to confess that if he was disclosing anything illegal the pastor was obligated to notify authorities. The court concluded that the confession’s confidentiality was not protected by the church’s “course of discipline” and that in any event Hardman’s making of the confession after being warned that the pastor would go to authorities amounted to a waiver of the privilege under Montana law for confessions made to clergy “in the individual’s professional character in the course of discipline enjoined by the church to which the individual belongs.”

Here’s more on the murder trial of Jeffrey Hardman, who claimed he shot another man in self defense after going to that man’s house to collect a $35 debt—and for some reason taking a gun with him. The jury didn’t buy it.

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