EvidenceProf Blog

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

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Call the Doctor?: Niagra County to Decide Whether to Admit Sexual Abuse Evidence in Doctor's Trial

Dr. David Plache is on trial in Niagra County Court in New York, defending charges that he sexually abused at least three young patients.  Prosecutor Richard Zucco has sought to introduce evidence at Plache's trial that he engaged in "strikingly similar behavior" with at least eight other young patients.  According to the prosecutor, this evidence would show (1) that the conduct at issue was intentional and neither inadvertent nor medically necessary, and (2) that Plache had an abnormal interest in children.

Plache's attorney's response is that Plache is not claiming that he performed the acts at issue based upon inadvertence or medical necessity; instead, he's claiming that the acts alleged by the patients never took place.  His argument is that the acts alleged in the indictment are so bad, there could be no medical justification for them, so the evidence of alleged prior acts of abuse would not be needed to prove intent.

It's difficult to say how the issue will be resolved without seeing the acts alleged in the indictment, but the controlling case here is People v. Molineux, 61 N.E. 286 (N.Y. 1901), where the Court of Appeals of New York found that when the character of an act precludes the possibility of its being innocently done and a felonious intent may be inferred, evidence of other similar crimes is inadmissible to prove intent. 

Thus, if the acts at issue were arguably properly performed medical procedures with, say, inadvertent, improper touching, the prosecutor would have the right to show prior acts of sexual abuse by Dr. Plache to prove that the supposedly inadvertent touching was in fact intentional.  If, however, as Dr. Plache argues, the acts at issues did not resemble any accepted medical procedure and were instead clear acts of sexual abuse, the prosecutor would be unable to introduce evidence of prior acts of abuse to prove intent because the only relevant question would be whether the alleged acts of abuse in fact occurred, not whether they occurred but were unintentional.

-CM

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