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Playing With / Spousal Privilege

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Basic Trope: A spouse doesn't have to testify against his/her spouse in court.

  • Straight: Alice and Bob are Happily Married, and Bob is charged with Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking. Alice doesn't have to testify against him.
  • Exaggerated:
    • The police aren't even allowed to question Alice, and she isn't even allowed to testify in court (even for Bob).
    • The privilege extends to live-in significant others as well as legal spouses.
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    • The privilege extends to conversations that happened after the marriage was over, or to ones that happened before Alice and Bob were legally married.
    • The privilege extends to cases where both Alice and Bob are parties to a criminal conspiracy.
    • Polygamy is legal. Bob's wives can't testify against him or each other.
    • After committing a crime, Bob marries all of the witnesses — even the male ones and his own mother — so they won't have to testify.
  • Downplayed:
    • Alice has to testify, but pleading the fifth also includes Bob.
    • The privilege applies if a spouse is charged with a misdemeanor, but not a felony.
  • Justified:
    • Alice and Bob live in a time or place where Alice's legal identity is superseded by Bob's; having her testify would be like Bob testifying at his own trial.
    • The law recognizes that under "innocent until proven guilty," compelling Alice to testify against Bob could harm their marriage and family if Bob is innocent, or if he is released from Prison.
  • Inverted:
    • Alice is compelled or forced to testify against Bob, whether she wants to or not.
    • Alice is forbidden from testifying for Bob, but not against him.
  • Subverted:
    • Alice is angry with Bob and decides to testify against him.
    • Alice is Bob's fiancée, not his wife.
  • Double Subverted:
    • But then has second thoughts about doing so.
    • The wedding is less than a week away, and the marriage license is considered just as legitimate as the actual marriage certificate in proving that Alice doesn't have to testify against Bob.
    • Alice posts Bob's bail, and even though the wedding is months or years away, they elope between his release from jail and his trial, so Alice won't have to testify. (Since they've already sent out "save the dates", or at least want to avoid a scandal, they don't tell anyone not directly involved in the police and court proceedings, and continue wedding planning as before.)
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  • Parodied: Alice's ghost is called up to testify about her murder by Bob. Turns out this privilege still applies.
  • Zig Zagged: ???
  • Averted: The privilege is brought up, but does not apply.
  • Enforced: The work is a very realistic Law Procedural and the situation is one to which spousal privilege would apply in real life, so it applies in the work.
  • Lampshaded: "I don't have to testify against my husband!"
  • Invoked: Alice is Bob's accomplice, and Bob marries her so she won't be compelled to testify against him if and when they're ever caught.
  • Exploited: ???
  • Defied:
    • See "Subverted".
    • The law where Alice and Bob live only invokes this privilege for conversations and actions done during the marriage; anything that happened while Alice and Bob were just boyfriend and girlfriend (or after they get divorced) is fair game, and they can be compelled to testify about it.
    • The government passes a law that abolishes spousal privilege altogether, arguing that getting the testimony is more important than trying to protect a criminal's marriage (and if your spouse wants to testify against you even though you're innocent, you should probably get divorced anyway).
  • Discussed: "If we get married, Alice, you don't have to say anything to the police!"
  • Conversed: "That's not how the legal system works..."
  • Implied: Alice witnesses her husband Bob committing a crime, but he ends up going free.
  • Deconstructed:
    • Alan is accused of Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking, and Bob, his partner for the past 10 years, is forced to testify against him on the technicality that they are not legally married.
    • Bob is accused of murder, and his ex-wife Alice recalls how he revealed incriminating information to her when they were married. She wants to testify against him, but can't because of marital confidences privilege. He goes free, which leaves Alice wondering whether her testimony could've changed the outcome... and whether she should take matters into her own hands.
  • Played For Laughs: Bob clearly misunderstands what the privilege does.
    Bob: I thought you couldn't convict a husband and wife of the same crime!
  • Played For Drama: Bob is accused of a serious crime. Alice invokes the privilege to avoid testifying against him. Bob goes free. Other characters start treating Alice badly because they suspect that Bob was guilty and she protected him...
  • Played for Horror: Bob kills Alice's family in front of her, and then forces her to marry him so she can't testify against him.

Back to Spousal Privilege

Example of: