Wednesday, April 8, 2009
In Treatment?: Supreme Court Of Mississippi Finds Medical Treatment/Diagnosis Applied To Mother's Statements Identifying Child's Sexual Abuser
The recent opinion of the Supreme Court of Mississippi in Valmain v. State, 2009 WL 863471 (Miss. 2009), addressed two important aspects of the statements for purposes of medical treatment/diagnosis exception to the rule against hearsay: (1) Do the statements at issue have to come from the (prospective) patient, and (2) are statements identifying a child sexual abuser inadmissible if the abuser does not live with the child? The court answered each question in the negative, and I agree with each conclusion.
In Valmain, Paul Clark Valmain appealed from his conviction for sexual battery based upon his alleged sexual penetration of a five-year-old girl, C.A. This alleged sexual battery occurred while Valmain was babysitting C.A., and after C.A. returned home, she began complaining of, inter alia, genital pain. C.A.'s mother, Christy Allen, subsequently went to Dusty Brown, a counselor at C.A.'s school, for advice and later took her daughter to Rush Foundation Hospital, where she was examined by Shalotta Sharp, a registered nurse and sexual-assault examiner. At trial, after the prosecutor asked Sharp to testify as to the medical history she had obtained with regard to C.A., the following exchange occurred:
A. The patient presented with the mother stating that she had been babysat by a neighbor, and upon coming home from this neighbor, complained of a genital pain. The mother questioned the child-I'm sorry. The school counselor, the child had revealed to the school counselor that she had been touched inappropriately, and the mother had stated that the child had genital pain and some behavior changes and that DHS was contacted and she was referred for an exam.
Q. Did the history also determine or advise you as to who this neighbor was?
Q. And who was the neighbor?
A. Paul Valmain. Paul Valmain.
After Valmain was convicted, he appealed, claiming that Sharp's testimony was improperly admitted because it relayed the hearsay statements of Allen to the jury. In addressing this argument, the Supreme Court of Mississippi noted that its analysis was guided by Mississippi Rule of Evidence 803(4), which provides an exception to the rule against hearsay for
Statements 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, regardless of to whom the statements are made, or when the statements are made, if the court, in its discretion, affirmatively finds that the proffered statements were made under circumstances substantially indicating their trust worthiness.
Valmain first claimed that this exception did not apply because the statements at issue came from the patient's mother and not from the patient herself. The court, however, noted that Rule 803(4) contains no requirement that the statements at issue come from the patient herself. Instead, the court noted that the reason for the exception is the "selfish treatment motivation," i.e., the belief that patients will be honest with medical service providers for fear that false information will lead to misdiagnosis and/or mistreatment. The court noted that this same motivation applies when a parent seeks treatment for her child and noted that its "finding [wa]s supported by a majority of the state and federal courts which have addressed the question."
Valmain also claimed that this exception did not allow for the admission of any statements identifying him as the alleged abuser because such statements of identification are generally inadmissible under Rule 803(4). One relevant exception to this general rule, however, is the statement of identification in a child sexual abuse case because “the paramount concern in treatment of sexual abuse is to ensure that a child is not returned to the environment that fostered, allowed, or permitted the abuse." Valmain contended that this exception did not apply because he was not a member of C.A.'s household, but the court rebuffed this argument, citing a prior opinion for the proposition that
[H]earsay testimony identifying the perpetrator is admissible under Miss. R. Evid. 803(4) regardless of whether he or she is a member of the child's immediate household. The overriding question making the inquiry necessary is, "Will the perpetrator have access to the child in the future that would allow the sexual abuse to continue?" Because the inquiry is necessary for treatment, the answer is admissible under the rule."
The court then found that this was the case in the case before it because
Although Valmain was not an immediate family member living in the same home as C.A., the record shows that he saw the victim and her brother “pretty much on a daily basis.” The record reveals that Valmain visited the children's home often, helping bathe and dress the children. Allen testified that Valmain was a friend and that she had left the children with him on other occasions. Valmain testified that he was a part of the kids' lives.