If the case against Justin Ross Harris goes to trial his wife, Leanna, may be called to testify against him.
Justin Ross Harris is accused of leaving his 22-month-old son, Cooper, to die inside a brutally hot car.
Page Pate, a criminal defense expert, said Georgia law allows for attorneys to call spouses to testify at trials against their husbands or wives under certain circumstances.
"If the crime involves domestic violence against the spouse or if it involves injury to a child, violence done to a child or crime done against a child, then the court can compel a spouse to testify against the other spouse," Pate said.
Leanna Harris could invoke her right not to incriminate herself to try to get out of testifying.
"Leanna Harris, the wife, certainly has 5th amendment protection. She has a reasonable belief that she could be prosecuted," Pate said.
Pate added, however, "a judge can compel someone to testify even if they don't want to testify as long as the state gives them immunity for what they say in court."
Either prosecution or defense could call Leanna Harris to testify.
It is unclear which side would she help more.
"If she's not charged, and doesn't face the prospect of being charged, I expect we will see her as a witness for the defense," Pate said.
Pate said, on the other hand, Leanna Harris's testimony could hurt her husband.
"If she's not fully supportive of her husband, the prosecution would likely try to get her to take the stand," Pate said.
It is unusual for the state to force spouses to testify against their husbands or wives because prosecutors and judges would rather not disrupt families, Pate said.
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Tuesday, April 20 2010 11:21 PM EDT2010-04-21 03:21:00 GMT
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