Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Deputy’s Obligation to Report Crime Trumps Spousal Privilege—C.A.
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday that a Riverside County Sheriff’s deputy cannot rely on the marital communications privilege to exclude evidence that she knew and failed to report that her husband—also a deputy—was stealing and using methamphetamine.
Concluding that Astrid Megan Reynolds’ duty to report her husband’s conduct trumped any statutory or constitutional privilege attaching to a conversation in which he admitted to the thefts and drug use, Div. Two affirmed a trial court’s order reinstating disciplinary measures against Reynolds.
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department began a personnel and a criminal investigation into Reynolds’ husband, James Reynolds, in 2003 based on tip that James Reynolds was stealing methamphetamine from people he arrested and from other deputies who had seized the drug. James Reynolds was later apprehended during a sting operation.
During a criminal interview, he admitted that he had obtained methamphetamine from three other deputies, and that his wife knew of his drug use and thefts based on a conversation earlier in the year.
Astrid Reynolds was also interviewed the same day as part of the criminal investigation into her husband, and investigators said she admitted that her husband had told her he was using drugs.
In a subsequent administrative investigation, however, Reynolds said that she wished to invoke the marital communications privilege. She also refused to repeat her prior statement that she knew her husband was using drugs, and maintained that she did not know of his drug use until the beginning of the investigation.
Reynolds also denied having told the investigators during the criminal interview that she knew about her husband’s methamphetamine use.
When the department imposed an eight-hour reduction in pay against Reynolds for having failed to report her husband’s drug use, pursuant to department regulations, she appealed, and asserting the marital communications privilege at an arbitration hearing.
The hearing officer found that all evidence of Reynolds’ conversation with her husband was inadmissible under the marital communications privilege, and that just cause did not support the discipline imposed absent further evidence.
However, Riverside Superior Court Judge Edward D. Webster granted writ relief overturning the hearing officer’s decision, and the Court of Appeal affirmed in an opinion by Presiding Justice Manuel A. Ramirez.
Noting that the statutory marital communications privilege protects communications made in confidence between spouses, while married, Ramirez reasoned by analogy to the constitutional privilege against self-incrimination and the statutory attorney-client privilege, both of which are trumped by a law enforcement officer’s duty to report criminal activity, and concluded that a law enforcement officer’s constitutional and statutory privileges “must yield when their exercise is inconsistent with the performance of the officer’s duties.”
Because law enforcement officers are guaranteed an administrative appeal of any punitive decisions made as a result of an administrative investigation, the same rules of privilege apply to both administrative appeals and investigations, Ramirez added.
Justices Betty Ann Richli and Jeffrey King joined Ramirez in his opinion.
The case is Riverside Sheriff’s Department v. Zigman (Reynolds), 08 S.O.S. 6894.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company