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In re Grand Jury Investigation - 918 F.2d 374 (3d Cir. 1990)

Rule:

In order for the clergy-communicant privilege to apply, the communication protected must, at a minimum, be made with a reasonable expectation of confidentiality to a member of the clergy acting in his or her professional or spiritual capacity. 

Facts:

A federal grand jury was convened to investigate an arson that damaged the home of an African-American family who lived in a white neighborhood. Three neighbors, a married couple and the wife's adult son, were grand jury targets. They, along with the son's fiancée, had sought pastoral counseling. Ultimately, the pastor was called to testify before grand jury. When the pastor claimed a clergy-communicant privilege, petitioner United States argued that the presence of the son's fiancée voided any privilege. The district court denied the United States' motion to compel the pastor to testify. The United States appealed.

Issue:

Did the clergy-communicant privilege protect communicfiancéeations made to a pastor in his professional capacity even if another person was present during the discussion?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court of appeals vacated the district court's order and remanded the case for further proceedings. Th court held that the clergy-communicant privilege protected communications made to the pastor in his spiritual and professional capacity with a reasonable expectation of confidentiality, and that the fact that it was a group discussion, or that the son's fiancée was present, did not necessarily void the privilege. However, the court ruled, the district court needed to determine whether the fiancée's presence was "essential to or in furtherance of" the family's communication with the pastor, and what common interests were shared by the group at the time the communications were made, prior to determining the existence of the privilege.

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