EvidenceProf Blog

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

Monday, January 16, 2012

Living Social: Supreme Court Of Alaska Finds Medical Hearsay Exception Applies To Statements To Social Worker

Like its federal counterpart, Alaska 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.

But does Rule 803(4) apply to statements made to a clinical social worker? According to the recent opinion of the Supreme Court of Alaska in Martha S. v. State, 2012 WL 104471 (Alaska 2012), the answer is "yes."

In Martha S., Martha and William S., the parents of six children, appealed a superior court order adjudicating their two youngest children as children in need of aid and placing the children in the custody of the Office of Children's Services. At trial, clinical social worker Cynthia Bridgman testified about numerous statements made by Allie, the daughter of Martha and William,

during her therapy sessions that related to alleged sexual experiences or exposure to sexual material. In recounting these statements, Bridgman clarified that her role was to provide treatment for Allie and that she was not conducting forensic interviews. The superior court concluded that the statements were admissible because they were made for the purposes of medical diagnosis or treatment under Evidence Rule 803(4). The superior court further explained that "[t]he circumstances and details are necessary to the treatment[,] including the identity of the perpetrator and the circumstances of the sexual contact and the nature of the sexual contact. [Allie] understands the purpose of therapy and g[ave] the statements understanding...th[at] context."

Specifically, Allie told Bridgman that she was sexually assaulted by her brothers

In appealing the superior court order, Martha and William claimed, inter alia, that Allie's statements didn't qualify for admission under Alaska Rule of Evidence 803(4). The Supreme Court of Alaska disagreed, concluding that

The commentary to the rule provides that the statements need not be made to a physician, and many other courts have applied this rule to mental health workers under rules similar to Evidence Rule 803(4).[FN17] As the Alabama court of appeals has explained, this hearsay exception applies where "the purpose of the child's counseling sessions...[is] for treatment" rather than "designed primarily for an evaluation of the child for a custody recommendation."

[FN17]....Federal courts have also allowed statements to mental health workers to be admitted under Federal Rule of Evidence 803(4), which is identical to Alaska's rule

Moreover, the court found no problem with the content of Allie's statements, noting that "The court of appeals has recognized that a child's statements identifying an assailant in the case of potential sex abuse can be made for the purposes of treatment...."



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