Family Values Imperiled When Mother Forced to Testify Against Child: Need for Parent-Child Privilege
Prosecutorial Coercion Violates DOJ Guidelines
Washington, DC (February 13, 1998) -- "At no time before has the need for a 'parent-child privilege' been so clear as when America this week saw Marcia Lewis visibly shaken and trembling after her ordeal before the Washington grand jury convened by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr," Gerald Lefcourt, President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said today. NACDL is calling upon Congress to create a new testimonial privilege to protect confidential communications between parents and children in the interest of preserving family relationships.
Prominent New York City white-collar defense counsel Lawrence S. Goldman is in the process of drafting the model for such a statutory privilege on the Association's behalf.
Goldman noted: "The unseemly plight of a mother being forced to testify about her daughter's confidential and private conversations -- especially about something so sensitive as consensual sexual activity -- cries out for protective legislation. America is not a police state. If Congress is really concerned about family values, as it should be, it must protect one of those most basic of values -- a child's right to seek parental advice and guidance. Parents and children should be able to reasonably expect that the confidentiality of their private talks will take priority over any prosecutor's purported 'need to know.'"
"Doesn't privacy and decency mean anything anymore?" Goldman added, "Just weigh the public good from a parent-child testimonial privilege against the untold damage from lost trust arising out of compelled parental testimony. We are fools to continue to tolerate this insidious abuse of the judicial system in America."
Unlike the Independent Counsel, career federal prosecutors are directed to scrupulously adhere to U.S. Department of Justice guidelines set forth in the United States Attorneys Manual, which provide that "[a]bsent specific justification, the Department will ordinarily avoid seeking to compel the testimony of a witness who is a close family relative of the defendant on trial or of the person upon whose conduct grand jury scrutiny is focusing." "Close relative" is defined as "a spouse, parent, child, grandparent, grandchild or sibling of the witness."
"The problem, is, this is a DOJ guideline only, and doesn't protect citizens from maverick prosecutors who may have agendas of their own," Lefcourt said.
"Marcia Lewis's collapse in the grand jury room Wednesday more or less proves that the Independent Counsel's Office seems more interested in browbeating and badgering witnesses and their close relatives and friends rather than seeking the truth. Unlike the Independent Counsel, most federal prosecutors know where the line is drawn when it comes to their conduct," Lefcourt added.