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New York Clergy Privilege (CPLR section 4505)

In law, a privilege — broadly speaking — is the ability to not disclose information that one would ordinarily have to. For example, many people have heard of the Attorney-Client privilege which requires that an attorney not disclose certain information received from their client unless the client authorizes it. The goal of a privilege like the Attorney-Client privilege is to allow the client to speak candidly with their attorney in order to get the best possible advice without having to worry that what they say will be used against them later on in some way.

In this post, I’m going to go over a slightly different privilege, namely Clergy Privilege under Section 4505 of New York’s Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR). Section 4505 recites the privilege as follows:

Unless the person confessing or confiding waives the privilege, a clergyman or other minister of any religion or duly accredited Christian Science practitioner , shall not be allowed to disclose a confession or confidence made to him in his professional character as spiritual advisor.

The idea here is that if a person is allowed to speak freely to their minister or other religious adviser about an issue they are conflicted on, the person is more likely to think through the problem, reach a good resolution, and ultimately whatever is morally and ethically right under the circumstances. The Clergy Privilege is not unique to New York. California has it also, except there is it called the “Clergy-Penitent Privilege”. See California Evidence Code sections 1030 to 1034.

The major New York case that describes a lot about the Clergy Privilege is from 1993 and is called People v. Carmona (82 NY2d  603).From that case, it seems the New York Legislature recognized that seeking spiritual guidance was extremely important and that ability deserved to be protected.

As always, I hope this post helped. It is not intended as a comprehensive or exhaustive discussion of New York’s Clergy Privilege. Please do your own research because it is possible the authorities I’ve cited to in this post will have changed by the time you read this. If you have a situation where New York’s Clergy Privilege is important, please do find an attorney with whom you can discuss it. Lastly, as of the date of this post, I do not maintain a physical office in New York state which means that under New York Judiciary Law section 470, I am not allowed to take cases in New York state.

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Andy Chen

Andy I. Chen is a lawyer licensed to practice law in California and New York. Andy maintains offices in Los Altos, California and Modesto, California. Under the New York Court of Appeals' 2015 decision in Schoenefeld v. State of New York, Andy does not accept cases from those in New York state. He does, however, know many lawyers in New York state and would be happy to make a referral.

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