TV Star Secretly recorded by Wife and Accused of Child Sexual Abuse

This week it was revealed that TV star Stephen Collins of the television show Seventh Heaven was allegedly secretly tape recorded by his wife during therapy sessions admitting to sexual abuse of children: TV Star Accused of Sexual Abuse

But can secretly recorded tapes made by a person’s spouse during therapy be used against that person in a criminal prosecution?

Privileged Communications

In the law there are some communications that are recognized as privileged, which mean that certain things you tell certain people in confidence cannot be used against you in court.  In the past these privileged communications included doctor and patient privilege or spousal privilege which meant that things you told your doctor or spouse in confidence could not be used against you in court.  While some of these privileged confidential communications still exist in the law, in child sexual abuse cases many states including Tennessee and Florida have removed all confidential communication privileges from all relationships except for the Attorney / Client relationship.  Therefore, assuming that the state where the counseling took place has similar laws the fact that the statements were made in confidence to a therapist and a spouse does not prevent their use by authorities in a criminal prosecution.  The therapist and the wife could be called to testify during a trial as to what Mr. Collins stated during the counseling session even if the tapes themselves are not allowed to be used.

Secretly Recorded Tapes

Whether the tapes themselves could be used depends upon whether California (or whichever state the counseling took place in) was a single party consent state or an all party consent state in regards to taped conversations.   In some states such as Tennessee only one person who is a part of a conversation needs to consent to the recording of the conversation.  Therefore, in Mr. Collins’ case, if California is a single party consent state, as long his wife was a part of the therapeutic session conversation she could lawfully record the conversation without telling her husband and the tape can be used against him in court.  However, if California requires all parties to consent to a recording like Florida law requires, then the tapes would likely not be allowed to be used in Court.  In Florida there is specific case law that prohibits the use of recordings made in violation of the State’s wiretapping statute, in other words if a conversation is recorded without all parties knowledge the tape cannot be used against the person who did not consent.

Brent Horst, Attorney at Law
Board Certified Criminal Trial Attorney, Nashville Tenn.
Licensed in Tennessee and Florida