EvidenceProf Blog

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

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Parental Warning: Court Of Criminal Appeals Of Tennessee Finds Parents' Statements Not Covered Under Rule 803(4)

Like its federal counterpart, Tennessee Rule of Evidence 803(4) provides an exception to the rule against hearsay for 

Statements made for purposes of medical diagnosis and treatment describing medical history; 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 and treatment.

So, let's say that a child victim is allegedly molested by the defendant. And let's say that the alleged victim's parents, but not the alleged victim herself, then tells a doctor about her statement. Does the parents' statement qualify as a statement for purposes of treatment or diagnosis under Rule 803(4). According to the recent opinion of the Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee in State v. Hudson, 2012 WL 344740 (Tenn.Crim.App. 2012), the answer is "no."

In Hudson, the facts were as stated above. In answering the question posed in the introduction, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennesse cited to its prior opinion in State v. Rucker. According to the court,

In State v. Rucker, 847 S.W.2d 512 (Tenn.Crim.App. 1992), this court addressed whether statements given by third parties to treating medical personnel, as opposed to statements given by a minor patient to medical personnel, fell within the exception to the hearsay rule for medical treatment and diagnosis. In Rucker, the victim's mother took the victim to the hospital after discovering her estranged husband in the hallway of her home with the victim....When they arrived at the hospital, the victim's mother told the nurse that she found her husband and daughter in the hall. She also told the nurse that the victim replied "yes" when the victim's mother asked her if the defendant had been "mess[ing]" with her....The court held that the mother's description of finding the defendant and the victim in the hallway could come in under the medical diagnosis and treatment exception to the hearsay rule because it constituted medical history....However, with regard to the victim's affirmance that the defendant had "messed" with her, the court concluded that it would only be "admissible if the statement falls within the purview of another exception to the hearsay rule."...This Court ultimately held the victim's statement to the mother as admissible as an excited utterance....It thus appears fromRucker, that statements made by the victim directly to a third party and then relayed to a treating medical professional by the third party do not fall within the medical diagnosis and treatment exception to the hearsay rule.

Thus, the court found that the parents' statement was inadmissible unless it satisfied an independent exception to the rule against hearsay. And, according to the court, it was "unable to find a hearsay exception under which this statement would fall." That said, the court found this error to be harmless giving the overwhelming other evidence of the defendant's guilt.



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