Friday, September 10, 2010
What's Up Doc?: Connecticut Court Finds Statement About Assault Weapon Admissible Under Hearsay Exception
Like Federal Rule of Evidence 803(4), Section 8-3(5) of the Connecticut Code of Evidence provides an exception to the rule against hearsay for
A statement made for purposes of obtaining a 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 the medical diagnosis or treatment.
So, is a statement by a victim to a plastic and reconstructive surgeon concerning the nature of the weapon used to injure him reasonably pertinent to medical diagnosis or treatment? According to the recent opinion of the Supreme Court of Connecticut Appellate Court of Connecticut in State v. Serrano, 2010 WL 3397460 (Conn.App. 2010), the answer is "yes."
In Serrano, the Supreme Court of Connecticut Appellate Court of Connecticut found that the jury could reasonably have found the following facts:
On the evening of August 2, 2005, in the city of Waterbury, the defendant and David Seekins, the victim, were arguing in a yard shared by several homes. Shortly before 10:30 p.m., the defendant brandished a blunt object. Donna Franco, the defendant's roommate, also was standing in the yard. She implored the defendant not to strike the victim. At least two of the defendant's neighbors, Jonathan Mendez and Daniel Medina, overheard Franco's pleas. Mendez heard Franco say either, "don't do it," or, "don't hit it," while Medina heard Franco say, "stop hitting him, you don't have to do that, don't hit him, you're going to kill him."
At some point thereafter, the defendant struck the victim on the head with the blunt object at least three times. Two of the defendant's neighbors, Mendez and Juana Ramirez, along with Jorge Reyes, a guest of Ramirez, saw the defendant attack the victim.
Sun Yung Waitze, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, first examined the victim approximately two days after he was admitted to the hospital. Waitze noted that the left side of the victim's head "had the most deformity" and asked the victim how he had been injured. The victim responded that he had been struck on the head with an unidentified blunt object. After completing his examination, Waitze concluded that the victim's injuries were serious enough to require surgery. Consequently, less than two weeks after the examination, Waitze performed surgery on the victim.
The defendant was thereafter charged with assault in the first degree, and Seekins did not testify at his trial. Dr. Waitze, however, did testify and, over objection indicated that Seekins said "that he had been beaten with a blunt object, although he was not sure of the exact nature of the object."
After he was convicted, Serrano appealed, claiming, inter alia, that Seekins' statement constituted inadmissible hearsay and that its admission violated his rights under the Confrontation Clause. The Supreme Court of Connecticut Appellate Court of Connecticut easily turned aside the latter argument, finding that
The circumstances of this case, viewed objectively, would not have led the victim reasonably to believe that his statement to his treating physician would be used later for prosecutorial purposes. Rather, the nature of the victim's statement, and the context in which it was elicited, make it clear that the victim reasonably expected that he was providing Waitze with information that would enable Waitze to provide the victim with proper medical treatment.
The Connecticut court Supremes then found that the statement qualified for admission under Section 8-3(5) of the Connecticut Code of Evidence, with Seekins' statement being reasonably pertinent to diagnosis or treatment because "Waitze testified that, as a surgeon, it was important for him to understand what caused the victim's injuries in order to provide the victim with effective medical treatment."