Any religious prohibition against testifying before a grand jury is outweighed by the government's need to investigate and punish crime, says a decision in the Hans Benjamin Singer case.
The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Denver, affirmed on March 15 that Singer, 15, is in civil contempt of court for refusing to testify before the grand jury. The decision detailing the reasoning was released Wednesday afternoon.Behind the decision is the fact that grand jurors meeting in Salt Lake City are investigating the January church bombing, standoff and shootings at Marion, Summit County. Four relatives of the youth Vickie Singer, Addam Swapp, Jonathan Swapp and John Timothy Singer have been charged.
The grand jury subpoenaed Hans Benjamin Singer so they could question him.
Singer, the son of Vickie and the late John Singer, was given immunity from prosecution. But he still refused to testify on the ground there is a parent-child privilege that allows him not to speak against his mother.
Among other things, he based the refusal on religious grounds. U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Greene held him in contempt of court, ordering him held in detention until he speaks or the grand jury session ends.
While the citation is appealed to the Supreme Court, the boy apparently remains under house arrest at the home of Ramon and Harriet Swapp, Fairview, Sanpete County, parents of his brother-in-law.
"Appellant contends that his fundamental religious beliefs prohibit him from being compelled to testify," says a defense brief filed with the Appeals Court. The brief was quoted in the decision released Wednesday.
It says that the boy would be harmed "both emotionally and psychologically, by being compelled to give testimony against his mother and members of his family . . . against the command of his deeply held religious beliefs." That would also harm family relationships, the brief says.
The four appeals court judges replied by saying, "The free exercise of religion is a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution. However, the freedom to practice one's religion is not absolute . . . .
"We hold that claimed First Amendment privileges (freedom of religion) asserted here are outweighed by the government's interest in investigating crimes and enforcing the criminal laws of the United States."
According to the appeals judges, such a parent-child privilege or family privilege was never recognized in common law. "Each of the circuit courts that have considered the claimed parent-child privilege and/ or family privilege have rejected them."
The decision notes the Supreme Court has held that rights to privacy are fundamental and personal. These involve such areas as marriage, procreation, contraception, child rearing and education.
But only two district courts in 1982 and 1983 decisions have recognized a parent-child privilege regarding grand jury testimony. No other courts have followed those two.
Several appeals courts have ruled that such a claimed privilege must give way to the overriding needs of the government's truth-seeking, the decision says.