State Supreme Court makes landmark ruling for court’s spousal privilege

New Mexico

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – There’s a huge shakeup in New Mexico’s court systems. The State Supreme Court ruled that husbands and wives can now testify against each other. The ruling follows a murder case where a man tried to block his wife from speaking out against him.

It means a massive restructuring for New Mexico courts. Until a new State Supreme Court ruling made last week, spouses could not testify against each other for what they said in private during their marriage.

In an opinion written by Chief Justice Judith Nakamura, she said in part: “This Court has a constitutional duty to ensure that the pursuit of truth is not unduly undermined by a procedural rule that has outlived its justification.”

The Chief Justice said it’s an old rule that needs to change to help in what she’s calling the pursuit of truth. But not all justices are on board with this ruling.

Justice Barbara Vigil said, “[Marriage] plays a significant role in protecting the privacy rights of married couples.”

“Well, I was disappointed,” said lawyer Steven Aarons.

Aarons is a criminal defense lawyer. He represented David Gutierrez II. Gutierrez was charged with the 2002 Clovis murder of Jose Valverde, who was found shot in the head in a boxcar.

Gutierrez was sentenced to life. That case sparked this landmark decision.

During the trial, Gutierrez tried to block his ex-wife and current wife from testifying. The state argued Gutierrez told the two about the murder, but the marital privilege stood in the way of that sought-after testimony.

“My concern is this case, it turns into somewhat into a he-said, she-said where the defendant’s former wives got together and testified against him,” said Aaron.

New Mexico will now be the only state without some sort of marital privilege in court. This applies to both civil and criminal cases filed as of August 30.

The justices also ruled to uphold the sentencing for Gutierrez. He will remain behind bars for the rest of his life.

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