White Plains, N.Y. A federal judge overturned a manslaughter conviction, saying conversations among Alcoholics Anonymous participants should not have been used as evidence because such exchanges are a form of religious communication.
U.S. District Judge Charles Brieant said treating AA meetings with less protection than any other form of religious communication, which carries assurances of confidentiality, is unconstitutional.
The entire AA relationship, he wrote, "is anonymous and confidential."
Paul Cox, 33, had been convicted of two counts of manslaughter for stabbing to death Laksman Rao Chervu and his wife, Shanta, in their home in 1988. Cox claimed he was in an alcoholic stupor when he broke into the home, where he had lived as a child.
His trial featured testimony some obtained by subpoena from AA members who said Cox had discussed memories of the stabbings.
Brieant said a federal appeals court held in 1999 "that AA is a religion." That conclusion, he said, was reached in a case that said a criminal defendant could not be ordered to attend AA meetings "because of the religious nature of the 12 steps." The 12 steps are tasks AA participants are asked to complete as they fight alcoholism.