EvidenceProf Blog

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

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Saves The Day: Court Of Appeals Of Arizona Finds Entire Child Molestation Statement Admissible Under Rule 803(4)

Like its federal counterpartArizona Rule of Evidence 803(4) 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.

Under Rule 803(4), statements about the general source of an injury are admissible. Thus, Paul's statement to his doctor that he hurt his arm when he was pushed down would be admissible. Conversely, statements about the person causing the illness/injury are generally not admissible. Thus, if Paul also told his doctor that it was Dan who pushed him down, this statement would typically be inadmissible. Why? Such statements of identification are ordinarily not reasonably pertinent to diagnosis or treatment. But does this limitations apply in cases of sexual assault or molestation? According to the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Arizona, Division 1, Department C., in State v. Cheatam, 2011 WL 5964514 (Ariz.App. Div. 1 2011), that changes things.

In Cheatam, Clinton Fletcher Cheatham was convicted of one count of sexual molestation and two counts of sexual conduct with a minor under the age of twelve. After he was convicted, Cheatam appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the superior court improperly "admitted substantial hearsay from the nurse [who] examined [the victim] some of which was entirely uncorroborated from [the victim's] testimony without adequate foundation under Rule 803(4)." 

In particular, Cheatham objec[d]s to the superior court's admission of the victim's statements to the nurse identifying Cheatham as the person who had "suck[ed] on his privates" and "put his finger in [the victim's] butt." 

In addressing this argument on appeal, the Court of Appeals of Arizona noted that 

although hearsay statements identifying a victim's assailant are ordinarily inadmissible under Rule 803(4) because they are not relevant to diagnosis or treatment, "this general rule ... is inapplicable in many child sexual abuse cases" because the identity of the abuser may be "critical to effective diagnosis and treatment."....[T]he "psychologica sequelae of sexual molestation by a father, other relative, or family friend may be different and require different treatment than those resulting from abuse by a stranger." 

This is language you might expect to see from any court opinion from any court across the country. Because the identity of a child molester is reasonably pertinent to diagnosis or treatment (e.g., whether the child should be returned to the custody of the parent), it is admissible despite the general proscription on the admissibility of statements of identification under Rule 803(4). But here's what the court went on to say:

The nurse also testified that, when obtaining information from a victim in a sexual assault case, it was important to determine the perpetrator's identity, because the perpetrator's identity and whether the perpetrator carried any sexually transmittable diseases might be relevant to the treatment plan she would prescribe for the victim

Interesting. This statement seems to imply that whenever a victim of any type of sexual assault makes a statement identifying the assailant, the statement is admissible under Rule 803(4).



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