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Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Psych-Out: Ohio Court Rules That Psychiatric Evaluation Is Inadmissible Hearsay

Gertrude Simpkins has been charged with the murder of her granddaughter in Ohio.  Simpkins gave a video-recorded confession to police officers, and the court has ruled over her objection that this confession will be admissible at trial. 

While talking with police officers, Simpkins indicated that she heard voices telling her to kill, that she was depressed, that she had not been sleeping, and that she had been eating very little.  At a hearing in August, Simpkins sought to have her confession deemed inadmissible on the ground that it was not voluntarily given.

As support, she presented a written psychiatric evaluation, which stated that Simpkins had no prior encounters with law enforcement and that she was despondent and confused while waiving her Miranda rights.  The court, however, ruled that the psychiatric evaluation constituted inadmissible hearsay.

In federal court, psychiatric reports are generally admissible as business records pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 803(6). See, e.g., Hodges v. Keane, 886 F.Supp. 352, 356 (S.D.N.Y. 1995).  It appears, however, that while Ohio mostly codified this Federal Rule, its counterpart makes no express provision for the admissibility of opinions and diagnoses in medical or psychiatric records. See In re Brown, 1986 WL 13385 at *8 (Ohio App. 1986). 

Nonetless, Ohio does allow for the admission of such records as exceptions to the rule of hearsay, but only when a strict, seven part test is satisfied. See Hytha v. Schwendeman, 320 N.E.2d 312 (Ohio APp. 1974).  For me, the strangest factor is the second factor, which requires that the diagnosis must be the result of well-known objective testing and examining practices and procedures which are not of such a technical nature as to require cross-examination.  It seems as if this factor will ensure that almost no psychiatric evaluations are admissible as business records because the testing done by psychiatrists is, by its nature, technical, thus requiring cross-examination.

-CM

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