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GREENSBURG, Pa. (KDKA) — Rahmael Sal Holt, charged with the murder of New Kensington police officer Brian Shaw, wants to get married.
But Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck wants to stop it, saying Holt’s fiancée, Vanessa Portis, is “an individual likely to be called as a witness by the Commonwealth.”
“Do you think the government should deny Rahmael Holt the right to marry his fiancée?” KDKA’s Jon Delano asked Holt’s attorney Tim Dawson.
“Absolutely not,” said Dawson. “The right to marry is a fundamental right recognized by the United States Supreme Court.”
But worried about certain privileges against testifying accorded to married couples, the DA got a temporary order from Judge Rita Hathaway barring Holt’s marriage to Portis pending a full hearing on the issue in August.
“I do believe it’s reasonable given its short nature and the importance of this case,” said David Schrager, a criminal defense attorney.
Denying all prisoners the right to marry is unconstitutional, says Duquesne Law School Prof. Rona Kaufman, but this is an open question.
“Whether in this particular instance it would be unconstitutional to prohibit this individual from getting married is unclear,” says Kaufman.
Schrager points out that when someone is charged with a serious crime like murder, they really need a spouse to confide in.
“They do find succor and comfort in their spouse,” says Schrager.
“I can certainly see why any defendant would want that extra level of confidentiality, but also just to have that support system because they are going through one of the difficult times of their lives.”
Local experts say there are really two kinds of privilege.
One is the marital privilege or spousal immunity privilege where one spouse cannot be forced against his or her will to testify against the other spouse. And then there’s the communication privilege where the private words between married couples cannot be forced to be disclosed.
But state law exempts murder from the claim of spousal immunity, and whatever is said before marriage is not privileged, say most experts.
Delano: “Is this a scheme by the defense?”
Dawson: “It’s not a scheme by the defense. None whatsoever.”
A hearing on this issue is set for Aug. 11.