Armstrong fights effort to call his wife as witness

State Rep. Joe Armstrong, facing trial Aug. 2 on federal tax evasion charges, is opposing prosecuting attorney Charles Atchley’s move to call his wife, Letonia Armstrong, as a witness against him, reports the News Sentinel.

“Joseph Armstrong intends to invoke the marital communications privilege at the trial of this matter,” defense attorney Gregory P. Isaacs wrote.

Unlike his longtime accountant and his business partner in the cigarette tax stamp deal at the heart of the tax evasion case — both of whom secretly recorded Armstrong and are key witnesses against him — Armstrong’s wife will not willingly lend the government a hand, Isaacs wrote.

“Additionally, upon information and belief, LeTonia Armstrong will be asserting both the adverse testimonial and the confidential communications privileges with respect to testimony related to Joseph Armstrong at trial,” the motion stated.

There is no law barring a spouse from testifying, but courts have long recognized two rights, known as “privileges,” involving spousal testimony. The first is known as the marital communications privilege, designed to protect marital confidences shared between spouses. Under that privilege, anything Joe Armstrong said to his wife in confidence about the tax stamp deal would be off-limits — although the government can challenge whether the communication was, in fact, meant to be confidential.

The second is known as the adverse testimonial privilege. It can be invoked only by the spouse who is being summoned to testify. That privilege holds that forcing a spouse to spill the beans on a partner does irreparable damage to the marriage. If LeTonia Armstrong chose to give adverse testimony against her husband, he could not use that particular privilege to stop her.

Atchley has not yet responded to the motion. For his part in the run-up to trial, Atchley seeks approval to file under seal some sort of document — he doesn’t label it. His only justification for seeking a sealing order is that the document contains “sensitive material.” Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips has not yet weighed in on the request.