Wolfle v. United States, No. 338

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSTONE
Citation54 S.Ct. 279,291 U.S. 7,78 L.Ed. 617
PartiesWOLFLE v. UNITED STATES
Docket NumberNo. 338
Decision Date08 January 1934

291 U.S. 7
54 S.Ct. 279
78 L.Ed. 617
WOLFLE

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 338.
Argued Dec. 12, 1933.
Decided Jan. 8, 1934.

Messrs. George E. Flood, S. J. Wettrick, and H. Sylvester Garvin, all of Seattle, Wash., for petitioner.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 7-10 intentionally omitted]

Page 10

The Attorney General and Mr. Angus D. MacLean, Asst. Sol. Gen., of Washington, D.C., for the United States.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 10-12 intentionally omitted]

Page 12

Mr. Justice STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case comes here on certiorari, 290 U.S. —-, 54 S.Ct. 87, 78 L.Ed. —-, to review a ruling of the District Court for Western Washington in a criminal trial, admitting in evidence against the accused, the petitioner here, a statement contained in a letter written by him to his wife, but proved by the testimony of a stenographer, reading from her notes, to whom petitioner had dictated the letter and who had transcribed it. The ruling was upheld and the conviction sustained by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 64 F.(2d) 566, which adopted as the test of admissibility of the evidence its interpretation of the statute in force in the territory of Washington at the time of its admission to statehood. Section 392, Code of Washington 1881; see State v. Nelson, 39 Wash. 221, 81 P. 721; state v. Rasmussen, 125 Wash. 176, 215 P. 332.

During the present term this Court has resolved conflicting views expressed in its earlier opinions by holding that the rules governing the competence of witnesses in criminal trials in the federal courts are not necessarily restricted to those local rules in force at the time of the admission into the Union of the particular state where the trial takes place, but are governed by common-law principles as interpreted and applied by the federal courts in the light of reason and experience. Funk v. United States, 290 U.S. 371, 54 S.Ct. 212, 78 L.Ed. 369, decided December 11, 1933. If any different rule with respect to the admissibility of testimony has been thought to apply in the federal courts, Wigmore on Evidence (2d Ed.) § 6; compare Alford v. United States, 282 U.S. 687, 51 S.Ct. 218, 75 L.Ed. 624, it is clear that it

Page 13

should be the same as that governing the competence of witnesses. So our decision here, in the absence of congressional legislation on the subject, is to be controlled by common-law principles, not by local statute.

The statement to which the witness was permitted to testify in the present case was a relevant admission by petitioner, probative of his guilty purpose or intent to commit the crime charged. It was therefore rightly received in evidence, unless it should have been excluded because made in a communication to his wife.

The government insists that confidential communications between husband and wife are privileged only when the testimony offered is that of one of the spouses, and that the privilege does not exclude proof of communications between them, however confidential, by a witness who is neither the husband nor the wife. The question thus raised remains open in the federal courts.1 But we

Page 14

find it unnecessary to answer it here, for, in the view we take, the challenged testimony to the communication by the husband to his wife is not within the privilege because of the voluntary disclosure by him to a third person, his stenographer.

The basis of the immunity given to communications between husband and wife is the protection of marital confidences, regarded as so essential to the preservation of the marriage relationship as to outweigh the disadvantages to the administration of justice which the privilege entails. See Hammons v. State, 73 Ark. 495, 500, 84 S.W. 718, 68 L.R.A. 234, 108 Am.St.Rep. 66, 3 Ann.Cas. 912; Sexton v. Sexton, 129 Iowa, 487, 489ff, 105 N.W. 314, 2 L.R.A. (N.S.) 708; O'Toole v. Ohio German Fire Ins. Co., 159 Mich. 187, 192, 123 N.W. 795, 24 L.R.A.(N.S.) 802; Wigmore on Evidence (2d Ed.) § 2336. Hence it is that the privilege with respect to communications extends to the testimony of husband or wife even though the different privilege, excluding the testimony of one against the other, is not involved. See Gordon, Rankin & Co. v. Tweedy, 71 Ala. 202, 210; Wickes v. Walden, 228 Ill. 56, 81 N.E. 798; Southwick v. Southwick, 49 N.Y. 510, 519; Wigmore on Evidence (2d Ed.) §§ 2227, 2228, 2332, 2333.

Communications between the spouses, privately made, are generally assumed to have been intended to be confidential, and hence they are privileged; but, wherever a communication, because of its nature or the circumstances under which it was made, was obviously not intended to be confidential, it is not a privileged...

To continue reading

Request your trial
216 practice notes
  • State v. Christian, (SC 17010)
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 9, 2004
    ...the different privilege, excluding the testimony of one against the other, is not involved." (Citations omitted.) Wolfle v. United States, 291 U.S. 7, 14, 54 S. Ct. 279, 78 L. Ed. 617 (1934). The marital communications privilege protects "information privately disclosed between husband and ......
  • Kenny v. Alaska Airlines, No. 16979.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • June 13, 1955
    ...by common-law principles as interpreted and applied by the federal courts in the light of reason and experience." Wolfle v. United States, 291 U.S. 7, 12, 54 S.Ct. 279, 78 L.Ed. 617. "In the exercise of its supervisory authority over the administration of criminal justice in the federal cou......
  • U.S. v. Mealy, Nos. 87-1600
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • July 1, 1988
    ...the evidence. In a federal criminal prosecution, federal standards govern the admissibility of evidence. See Wolfle v. United States, 291 U.S. 7, 12-13, 54 S.Ct. 279, 279-80, 78 L.Ed. 617 (1934); United States v. Dudek, 530 F.2d 684, 689 (6th Cir.1976). In determining whether evidence seize......
  • In re Subpoena Duces Tecum, Comm. Futures Trading, No. 05-5168.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • March 3, 2006
    ...States in the light of reason and experience. The rule's invocation of "reason and experience" was drawn from Wolfle v. United States, 291 U.S. 7, 12, 54 S.Ct. 279, 78 L.Ed. 617 (1934); see also Hawkins v. United States, 358 U.S. 74, 79, 79 S.Ct. 136, 3 L.Ed.2d 125 (1958), and, as Page 750 ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
216 cases
  • State v. Christian, (SC 17010)
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 9, 2004
    ...the different privilege, excluding the testimony of one against the other, is not involved." (Citations omitted.) Wolfle v. United States, 291 U.S. 7, 14, 54 S. Ct. 279, 78 L. Ed. 617 (1934). The marital communications privilege protects "information privately disclosed between husband and ......
  • Kenny v. Alaska Airlines, No. 16979.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • June 13, 1955
    ...by common-law principles as interpreted and applied by the federal courts in the light of reason and experience." Wolfle v. United States, 291 U.S. 7, 12, 54 S.Ct. 279, 78 L.Ed. 617. "In the exercise of its supervisory authority over the administration of criminal justice in the federal cou......
  • U.S. v. Mealy, Nos. 87-1600
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • July 1, 1988
    ...the evidence. In a federal criminal prosecution, federal standards govern the admissibility of evidence. See Wolfle v. United States, 291 U.S. 7, 12-13, 54 S.Ct. 279, 279-80, 78 L.Ed. 617 (1934); United States v. Dudek, 530 F.2d 684, 689 (6th Cir.1976). In determining whether evidence seize......
  • In re Subpoena Duces Tecum, Comm. Futures Trading, No. 05-5168.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • March 3, 2006
    ...States in the light of reason and experience. The rule's invocation of "reason and experience" was drawn from Wolfle v. United States, 291 U.S. 7, 12, 54 S.Ct. 279, 78 L.Ed. 617 (1934); see also Hawkins v. United States, 358 U.S. 74, 79, 79 S.Ct. 136, 3 L.Ed.2d 125 (1958), and, as Page 750 ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT