Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Doctor, There's Something Wrong With Me: Alabama Court Finds Statements Of Identity Admissible Under Rule 803(4) In Domestic Violence Cases
Federal Rule of Evidence 803(4) and many state counterparts indicate that "[s]tatements made for purposes of medical diagnosis or treatment and describing medical history, or past or present symptoms, pain, or sensations, or the inception or general character of the cause or external source thereof insofar as reasonably pertinent to diagnosis or treatment" are admissible as an exception to the rule against hearsay. When the cause of a declarant's symptoms, pain, or sensations is a person, the declarant's statements for purposes of medical diagnosis or treatment usually have two components : (1) the component concerning general causation (I was shot or hit by a car), and (2) the component concerning who caused the symptoms/pain/sensations (I was shot by "John" or "a caucasian man"). See United States v. Iron Shell, 633 F.2d 77, 84 (8th Cir. 1980). "The former in most cases is pertinent to diagnosis and treatment while the latter would seldom, if ever, be sufficiently related." Id. Thus when a doctor asks what happened to a decalarant's hip and he responds, "I was struck by a car. The car was driven by John," the former statement is admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 803(4); the latter statement is not.
Many courts, however, have developed an exception to this dichotomy in cases of child abuse by relatives. For instance, as the EIghth Circuit noted in United States v. Renville, 779 F.2d 430, 436-38 (8th Cir. 1985):
"Statements by a child abuse victim to a physician during an examination that the abuser is a member of the victim's immediate household are reasonably pertinent to treatment[;] they are reasonably relied on by a physician in treatment or diagnosis. First, child abuse involves more than physical injury; the physician must be attentive to treating the emotional and psychological injuries which accompany this crime....The exact nature and extent of the psychological problems which ensue from child abuse often depend on the identity of the abuser....Second, physicians have an obligation, imposed by state law, to prevent an abused child from being returned to an environment in which he or she cannot be adequately protected from recurrent abuse."
A tougher question, recently faced by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals in Moore v. City of Leeds, 2008 WL 274720 (Ala.Cr.App. 2008), is whether there should be an exception to this dichotomy in cases of domestic violence. In Moore, Jeffrey Scott Moore was convicted of domestic violence in the third degree based on the underlying offense of assault, harassment, and harassing communications. Id. at *1 Part of the evidence used to convict Moore consisted of the testimony of Dr. Ronald McCoy, an ear, nose, and throat specialist, who testified that he treated Moore's ex-wife, Karen Kelly, for, inter alia, a broken nose. Id. at *2. According to Dr. McCoy, Kelly told him that "her injury was caused as a result of an 'altercation with her husband while they were driving.'" Id. On appeal, Moore contended that the component of Kelly's statement identifying him as the source of her injury was inadmissible under Rule 803(4).
The court rejected this argument, relying upon the Tenth Circuit's opinion in United States v. Joe, 8 F.3d 1488, 1494-95 (10th Cir. 1993), where the Tenth Circuit found that:
“Unlike the victims in the cases cited above, Ms. Joe was not a child but rather the estranged wife of the alleged sexual abuser. However, the identity of the abuser is reasonably pertinent to treatment in virtually every domestic sexual assault case, even those not involving children. All victims of domestic sexual abuse suffer emotional and psychological injuries, the exact nature and extent of which depend on the identity of the abuser. The physician generally must know who the abuser was in order to render proper treatment because the physician's treatment will necessarily differ when the abuser is a member of the victim's family or household. In the domestic sexual abuse case, for example, the treating physician may recommend special therapy or counseling and instruct the victim to remove herself from the dangerous environment by leaving the home and seeking shelter elsewhere. In short, the domestic sexual abuser's identity is admissible under Rule 803(4) where the abuser has such an intimate relationship with the victim that the abuser's identity becomes ‘reasonably pertinent’ to the victim's proper treatment.”
I think that there's a good argument that there should be an exception to the Rule 803(4) dichotomy in cases of domestic violence, but I don't think that the court in the Moore case provided that argument. The Joe case principally relied upon by the the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals in rendering its opinion, provides good reasons for an exception in cases of domestic sexual assault cases, but it says nothing about domestic violence not involving sexual assault.