BY SAM FIELDS
Shellie and George Zimmerman clearly conspired to mislead the Court about their resources in order to get a reduced bond for hubby.
Based on the jailhouse phone conversations between them she has been charged with perjury.
It’s not so clear that the government’s key evidence against Mrs. Zimmerman will ever be admitted in to evidence.
That evidence, the jailhouse phone conversations between them–which number at least 150—may be subject to the spousal “legal privilege” and therefore not admissible into evidence.
Florida, like all states, recognizes that certain conversations between certain parties are “privileged” and therefore protected from being used as evidence against one or both of the parties.
We have all heard of the “attorney-client” privilege. If you tell your lawyer that you did the murder he cannot rat you out to the cops.
If he does, that confession will not be admitted at trial and the lawyer is looking at disbarment.
Other privileges exist between clergy and someone seeking spiritual consultation.
While there is a “psychotherapist-patient” privilege there is no doctor-patient privilege. If you tell the surgeon that your bullet wound comes from robbing the bank, a simple subpoena will force the doctor to tell all.
Not the same if you tell your “Shrink”. That stays a secret. Privilege will defeat a subpoena.
The Husband-Wife or “Spousal” privilege may be the broadest and most protected privilege. It could conceivably keep all those recorded phone conversations out.
In the prosecution of Shellie Zimmerman watch for some key issues.
The Crime Fraud Exception To Privilege
Ordinarily there is no privilege if the parties are using it to conceal a crime that both were involved in. The one exception is the “spousal” privilege.
In Johnson v State, 451 So. 2d 1024 (Fla. 1st DCA 1984) the court held that, contrary to the Federal Rule and some other states, criminal conversations between spouses—think George and Shellie– are protected.
The reasoning was simple. The Florida Legislature controls the Rules of Evidence including the exceptions and they did not write one for criminal conversation between a husband and wife.
Notice In The Jail
If a prisoner calls you from a Broward County jail you will first get a message warning you that the conversation is being taped. If the prisoner calls his lawyer on a listed phone number there is no such notice and presumably it is not taped. That conversation protected by attorney-client privilege.
Have you waived that privilege because you called your lawyer on his cell phone or at his home? I don’t think so.
The purpose of the taping is only for jail security purposes. Does that mean the parties have waived it for all other purposes?
Assuming Seminole County jail has a warning of taping, does that also mean that you have waived your spousal privilege?
Did Shellie Zimmerman discuss her conversation with third parties? If so, did she waive the privilege?
Piling On For Leverage
Finally, let me ask the question as to whether arresting Shellie Zimmerman is strategic as much as anything.
It is almost a given that family members, when testifying will, in the words of Tammy Wynette, “Stand By Their Man”.
I’ve seen moms offer alibis for kids and spouses that were made from total whole clothe.
Perjury charges against supportive family members are as rare as “ice in August”. Typically it is an attempt to leverage a defendant by threatening to put his mom or wife in the slammer.
Is that what we are seeing in this case?