Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Ask The Doctor: Court of Appeals Of Texas Finds Statements Identifying Child Abuser Covered By Rule 803(4)
The Court of Appeals of Texas' recent opinion in Guzman v. State, reveals both that several Texas courts have found that Texas Rule of Evidence 803(4) covers statements identifying a child abuser but that the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas has not yet resolved the issue. In Guzman, Jaime Guzman was convicted by a jury of the felony offense of aggravated sexual assault of a child and assessed eighteen years in prison. The complainant was C.G., a fourteen-year-old girl, who testified that Guzman sexually assaulted her in July 2003. Over Guzman's objections, the prosecution corroborated C.G.'s testimony through the testimony of Dr. Jayme Coffman, who treated C.G.
Dr. Coffman testified, inter alia, "[C.G.] told me that he, meaning [Guzman], had taken her to his apartment, that he grabbed her and started kissing her neck and her mouth. She said he then put her on the couch and pulled her skirt up and then grabbed her arms and pulled them to her side and that he then unbuttoned his pants and got on top of her. At that point, she became very tearful and wouldn't talk for a few minutes."
On appeal, the Court of Appeals noted that the issue was whether C.G.'s statements to Dr. Coffman were inadmissible hearsay or whether they were admissible pursuant to Texas Rule of Evidence 803(4), which creates an exception to the rule against hearsay for "[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."
Guzman's argument was that C.G.'s statements -- specifically about who caused the injury and how he undressed -- were unnecessary for the doctor's treatment. The court found, however, that previous Texas decisions had concluded that child abuse victims' statements to physicians during medical examinations identifying abusers can be “reasonably pertinent to diagnosis or treatment” because they are the type of statements reasonable relied on by physicians." It also noted that other Texas courts had held that a physician's testimony regarding a statement identifying a defendant as the offender in a sexual assault case is admissible under Texas Rule of Evidence 803(4) because the identity is reasonably pertinent to medical diagnosis or treatment.
The Court of Appeals of Texas thus found that the trial court acted correctly in allowing Dr. Coffman's testimony, but it did note that the Court of Criminal Appeals had not yet addressed the issue. When it does address the issue, I think it will fall in line with the other Texas courts as most courts have found that Rule 803(4) covers statements by child sexual abuse victims identifying their assailants.