Judge holds that confession in front of an Alcoholics Anonymous g roup is shielded by clergy-penitent privilege

Volokh, Eugene VOLOKH at MAIL.LAW.UCLA.EDU
Thu Aug 2 12:51:19 PDT 2001


                Seems like a rather broad reading of the clergy-penitent
privilege -- though I'm not sure whether it's too broad -- but more
importantly, where are the grounds for federal habeas here?  Is the theory
that the clergy-penitent privilege is commanded by the Free Exercise Clause
and that a denial of the privilege therefore renders the conviction
unconstitutional?  If anyone has a URL or a WESTLAW/LEXIS pointer to the
decision, I'd love to see it.

http://www.nypost.com/news/regionalnews/36507.htm:

                         August 2, 2001 -- A federal judge yesterday
overturned
                         the double-homicide conviction of a man sent to
jail on the
                         word of fellow Alcoholics Anonymous members, saying
the
                         testimony should have never been admissible. . . .

                         Paul Cox . . . has served seven years since a jury
                         convicted him of manslaughter in the grisly slaying
of
                         husband-and-wife doctors as they slept in their
Larchmont
                         bed.

                         Brieant ruled that Alcoholics Anonymous has to be
                         considered a religious institution based on
previous court
                         rulings - and that its meetings must enjoy the same
                         protections as sessions between priests and their
penitents.

                         "Clearly, it is possible as a matter of
constitutional law to
                         have and to practice a religion without having a
clergyman
                         as such," Brieant wrote, "or where all members
exercise the
                         office of clergyman to the extent of receiving
confessions." . . .

                         The case had remained unsolved for four years,
until an AA
                         member told cops that Cox talked in sessions about
                         dreams and memories of killing the doctors in a
drunken
                         stupor in the home where Cox, as it turned out, had
lived
                         as a child.

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