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No Evidentiary Privilege for AA Fifth Step Confessions

They say that confession is good for the soul. The 12 step programs enshrine this idea in the Fifth Step, where the recovering alcoholic or addict “admits to God, ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

What if the penitent has committed a crime? Take, for example, Michael Skakel, a relative of the Kennedy family, who is in prison for the brutal murder of his 15 year old neighbor Martha Moxley? He was also 15 at the time of the murder, and because the cops botched the investigation and were afraid to take on the Kennedys, he almost got away with it. But, he went off to a combination school/rehab center.

The Elan School had a series of group therapy and private sessions where students were encouraged to participate in “primal screaming” and come clean about incidents in their lives which caused them guilt and sorrow. It was during this time at Elan that Michael admitted to his father and members of the Elan staff that he was involved in Martha Moxley’s murder.

Some of his fellow addicts reported him. Mark Furhman wrote a book about it, Murder in Greenwich, and Dominick Dunne wrote another, interest was rekindled, and years after the murder, Skakel was convicted.

If I were a detective investigating a suspect I learned was active in AA or NA, I would send in an informant to befriend him, and become his “sponsor,” and then get him to do a full Fifth Step – and secretly tape it.

The lesson is that if you want to spill your guts about crimes you’ve committed, tell a priest or an ordained preacher. Texas Rule of Evidence 505 states:

General Rule of Privilege. A person has a privilege to refuse to disclose and to prevent another from disclosing a confidential communication by the person to a member of the clergy in the member’s professional character as spiritual adviser.

For more information, contact the Law Office of Richard Ellison, P.C. for a free initial consultation.