Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Confession To Pastor Not Privileged After Warning That Authorities Would Be Told

In a Montana trail court decision handed down in May and just now becoming available on LEXIS, the court refused to suppress evidence of a confession by defendant made to a pastor of Faith Chapel. Defendant Jeffrey Hardman came to the pastor before going to police to turn himself in, telling the pastor that he was fearful whether God could forgive him for the mistakes he made including his responsibility for the death of Michael Blattie when defendant's gun discharged in a fight with Blattie. In State v. Hardman2010 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."