Argued: October 4, 2018
Circuit Court for Worcester County Case No.: 23-K-15-000516
Barbera, C.J., Greene, [*] Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Hotten,
It is a fundamental rule of law that the public has a right
to every persons' evidence. There are a small number of
constitutional, common-law and statutory exceptions to that
general rule, but they have been neither "lightly
created nor expansively construed, for they are in derogation
of the search for truth."
Ashford v. State, 147 Md.App. 1, 63 (2002) (Moylan,
J.) (emphasis removed) (quoting In re
Cueto, 554 F.2d 14, 15 (2d Cir. 1977)). These exceptions
are commonly known as privileges. This case asks us to
balance the search for truth against one of the strongest
privileges-confidential marital communications.
weigh the introduction of evidence that tends to implicate
child abuse against the protection of the confidential
marital communications privilege. In so doing, we resolve the
two questions presented: (1) whether this Court should adopt
a principle of narrow construction with respect to the
marital communications privilege, and (2) whether the trial
court properly exercised its discretion by allowing the State
to introduce text messages that Kevin Sewell sent to his
wife's cell phone. As to the first question, we agree
with the State that courts should narrowly construe
privileges, including the marital communications privilege.
As to the second, we affirm the trial court's decision to
admit the text messages, although we diverge from its
Overview and Procedural Posture
Luke Hill lived with his mother, Victoria Harmon, and her
fiancé, Nick Miller, in Keller, Virginia. Luke was a
happy, healthy little boy who enjoyed running around, playing
outside, and driving his toy Jeep. In late April, Luke went
to his pediatrician for a wellness check, and the doctor told
his mother that he was "perfectly fine."
Approximately one week later, Luke's mother and Nick left
Luke in the care of Amanda and Kevin Sewell
("Amanda" and "Kevin," respectively), his
aunt and uncle, so that they could enjoy a night out. They
arrived at Amanda and Kevin's house in Pocomoke City,
Maryland around 3:00 p.m. and visited for a short time,
during which Luke and his cousin were running, playing, and
wrestling. When Victoria and Nick departed for Salisbury,
Kevin was holding Luke.
played with the boys until around 5:00 p.m. They all ate eggs
and bacon for dinner, and afterward, Amanda gave Luke a bath.
She testified that during Luke's bath, she noticed, for
the first time, that he had "[a] lot" of bruises,
including bruising behind his ears, down his neck, on his
chest, arms, and legs. He also had black eyes and a knot on
his head. Amanda testified that she called Victoria and told
her about the bruises behind his ears and that Luke was not
woke up around 5:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, May 3, to get
ready for her shift at a nearby restaurant. Luke and his
cousin woke shortly thereafter, and Amanda made them
breakfast. She departed for work around 6:45 a.m., leaving
the children in Kevin's care.
around 9:00 a.m., Amanda and Kevin sent a series of text
messages to each other.
[AMANDA 9:07:22 a.m.]: Everything ok?
[KEVIN 9:14:15]: Ye boo
[KEVIN 9:14:28]: He doesn't listen worth shit but were
[KEVIN 9:14:49]: I think tori told me he [breaks] out from
[KEVIN 9:15:02]: I wonder if thats why his neck n chest are
[AMANDA 9:15:48]: His ear is bruised
[KEVIN 9:16:34]: Yeah, it sure [is]
[KEVIN 9:16:47]: [Maybe] him and [Son] were rough housing
[AMANDA 9:33:14]: He's very [skittish]
[KEVIN 9:40:58]: Yeah, he is I've noticed
[KEVIN 9:41:00]: Why, tho
[KEVIN 9:47:55]: He threw up on our sheets
[KEVIN 9:48:24]: [Daughter] was sleeping n he started
[screaming] so I [made] him lay down
[KEVIN 9:48:32]: Then he threw up on our bed
[AMANDA 9:53:43]: Nice.
[AMANDA 9:54:23]: Strip the bed and put [what] u can in the
[KEVIN 10:02:27]: Ok
[AMANDA 10:12:49]: Thank u how are u
[KEVIN 10:13:07]: Good boo boo
[AMANDA 10:32:39]: U going with me to take him[ home]
[AMANDA 10:41:48]: ?
[AMANDA 11:20:32]: ?
[KEVIN 11:44:12]: I thought u were taking him tomorrow
[KEVIN 12:05:59 p.m.]: [What] time u getting off?
[AMANDA 12:32:19]: Today
[AMANDA 12:32:27]: 1:30
[KEVIN 12:35:39]: Ok
[KEVIN 12:35:53]: Thats fine because he's acting like a
[KEVIN 12:36:20]: He ignores u like hes retarded hes thrown
up twice n all ...