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N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 4505 is intentionally aimed at all religious ministers who perform significant spiritual counseling which may involve disclosure of sensitive matters. What is more appropriately dubbed the cleric-congregant privilege is applicable to ministers of all religions, most of which have no ritual analogous to that of the Catholic confession. New York's test for the privilege's applicability distills to a single inquiry: whether the communication in question was made in confidence and for the purpose of obtaining spiritual guidance.
On March 15, 1987, Olga Estremera was killed in Elias Carmona’s apartment. Following that slaying, Carmona fled to Miami, Florida, where he confessed to police after consulting with two clergymen. Carmona was convicted of homicide. Carmona appealed contending that inculpatory contents of his conversations with clergymen were improperly admitted against him at trial.
Were the inculpatory contents of Carmona’s conversations with the clergymen properly admitted against him at trial?
The court held that the conversations were privileged under N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 4505. According to the court, Carmona’s conversations with the clergymen were privileged because Carmona initiated contact with the clergymen for the purpose of obtaining spiritual guidance and solace. The court also held that Carmona did not waive the privilege by turning himself in and essentially telling the authorities what he told the two clergymen because his police station confession was improper for failure to provide counsel to Carmona. However, the court held that the admission of the ministers' testimony did not constitute reversible error because there was substantial circumstantial evidence of Carmona’s guilt, and it was unlikely that the jury gave the ministers' statements significant weight.