Court reverses ruling on testimony of spouses

The Supreme Court upset a precedent Wednesday dating back to medieval times by ruling that a husband or wife may testify against a spouse over the partner's objections. The court upheld the conviction of Otis Lee Trammel on charges of smuggling heroin into the country. Mr. Trammel was convicted almost solely on the basis of his wife's testimony.

He challenged the conviction, citing a 1958 case in which the court ruled that one spouse can prevent the other from testifying against him or her.

But the court Wednesday reversed that ruling, saying that "reason and experience" no longer justified such a rule. The court's new ruling means that a husband or wife may now testify against a spouse about any act observed during the marriage or any conversation made in the presence of a third party. But one spouse may still prevent the other from testifying about any confidential communication between the two alone.

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