Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Case Law Development: Patient's Identification of Assailant Not Admissible Hearsay under Medical Diagnosis Exception

The Minnesota Supreme Court has been at the front lines recently in deciding cases regarding admissibility of hearsay statements in child abuse and domestic violence actions.  The court now holds that a trial court erred in adopting a categorical rule of admissibility for statements of identification by domestic abuse victims under the medical diagnosis exception, as there was insufficient evidence that identification of the perpetrator is relevant to medical diagnosis:

We are not able to determine, by judicial notice or general knowledge, whether the notion that the identification of the perpetrator of domestic violence is reasonably pertinent to medical diagnosis and treatment is generally accepted in the medical profession. To this extent, the medical exception to the hearsay rules depends, in the first instance, on the views of the medical profession, not on the views of the courts. We can speculate that the medical profession may have evolved to recognize the importance of treating the whole person of a victim of domestic violence, including the emotional and psychological effects of past violence and the potential of future violence. But we can do no more than speculate. The record before us contains no medical expert testimony on the scope of the customary treatment of a victim of domestic violence or whether the identity of the domestic abuser is reasonably pertinent to that treatment.... We conclude that the categorical rule of admissibility that the state urges us to adopt is too broad. It ignores variables such as the seriousness of the assault, the frequency of the abuse against the victim, the type of domestic relationship, or the presence or absence of emotional or psychological harm. These variables can affect the pertinence of a statement of identification to medical diagnosis or treatment.

However, the court was careful to limit its holding:

We do not foreclose the possibility that we might in the future adopt a properly limited categorical rule of admissibility under the medical exception to hearsay for statements of identification by victims of domestic violence. Nothing in this decision should be interpreted as preventing or discouraging hospitals from conducting routine screening for domestic abuse for any or all patients. And we do not suggest that accusations by victims of domestic abuse are unreliable. We only hold that where, as here, there is an insufficient evidentiary foundation to establish that the identity of the person who caused an injury was reasonably pertinent to the medical diagnosis or treatment of that injury, the statement of identity is not admissible under Rule 803(4).

The court found that because the victim's statements were admissible under the residual exception, the district court's error in was harmless.

State v. Robinson, 2006 Minn. LEXIS 439 (July 20, 2006)
Opinion on the web (last visited July 23, 2006 bgf)

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