The Texas Rules of Evidence protect a variety of communications between certain people. The reason for this is that the law considers some communications and relationships to be so valuable to society that special protections, or privileges are granted by law. The tradition of these privileged communications goes all the way back to England and the common law.
However, the law on these privileges continues to evolve as society determines that certain privileges are more or less valuable and more or less worthy of protection. Most people are familiar with the 5th amendment right not to testify, but there are several other types of privileges not to testify. Many of these privileges apply in both criminal and civil trials.
Attorney-client privilege is the most commonly used privilege. In almost all cases, the communications between a lawyer and their client are private are are considered one of the most fundamentally important relationships that need to be protected by society. The privilege belongs solely to the client. It is the client’s decision to either keep the conversations private or make them public. The attorney has no right to keep the attorney-client communications secret.
Spousal privilege is designed to protect marriages and keep the conversations within marriage secure and open. There are two types of spousal privilege. The first is a broad protection that is owned by the testifying spouse to either testify, or not testify, against their spouse in a criminal case. There are exceptions to this, such as crimes against children where the spouse has no right not to testify. The decision to testify belongs completely to the testifying spouse and if they wish to testify the criminal defendant can not prevent it.
The second type of spousal privilege involves conversations between spouses. The law values the ability for two spouses to have open and honest communications between themselves without the concern that one might be required to testify against the other. Due to the fact that the law values this right so highly, the spouse that is being testified against has the right to prevent the testifying spouse from revealing confidences. This is true even if it is the desire of the individual to testify against their spouse.
Another privilege that is provided under the law is the right to secrecy in communications with members of clergy. It is considered valuable to allow people to have secret conversations with religious leaders. These conversations are kept secret in order to encourage open communications between people that are seeking religious guidance and those that are providing it.
Communications between doctors and patients are confidential as well. People that are seeking medical care need to be able to do so with out worrying that what they share with their doctors might someday be revealed in court. For this reason, the law allows for privacy in medical dealings. The physician-patient privilege belongs solely to the patient, much like the attorney-client privilege.