EvidenceProf Blog

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

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Send More Paramedics: Court Of Appeals Of Indiana Finds Stranger's Statements Not Covered By Rule 803(4)

Like its federal counterpart, Indiana 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.

Clearly, this rule covers statements made by the person needing medical treatment, but does it also cover statements made by third parties? As the recent opinion of the Supreme Court of Indiana in Jackson v. State, 2010 WL 1685974 (Ind. 2010), the answer is "maybe" when the statement is made by a close family member, but the answer is "no" when the statement is made by a stranger. 

In Jackson,

Officer Christopher Strouse of the Madison Police Department was dispatched to Ben Smith's apartment on Walnut Street in Madison. When Officer Strouse arrived, he found Smith and Harold Centers in the apartment and Gerald "Bubby" Roberts lying on a mattress with dried blood on it. Paramedics were called to the scene and failed to revive Roberts, who was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

After several trials, Jackson was finally convicted of battery resulting in serious bodily injury. He thereafter appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the trial erred by precluding him from having a paramedic testify that an unidentified bystander at the scene of the crime told him "that Roberts 'jumped up and yelled something, fell, striking his head on the wall.'" According to Jackson, this testimony would have established that he was not responsible for Roberts' death. And, according to Jackson, this testimony should have been admissible because it qualified as, inter alia, a statement made for purposes of medical treatment or diagnosis under Indiana Rule of Evidence 803(4).

The Supreme Court of Indiana disagreed, finding that the Rule provides

an exception for statements made "for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment." It permits accounts of statements by a person needing medical treatment.... In some cases, "statements by others, most often close family members, may be received if the relationship or the circumstances give appropriate assurances” as to the statements' reliability.... It is not obvious that this statement, whoever made it, was made for the purpose of diagnosis or treatment. In any event, there is nothing in the record to support Jackson's claim that the unidentified bystander was in some close relationship to Roberts such that this statement can enjoy the confidence of reliability required by Evidence Rule 803(4)

This makes sense, given one of the main rationales for the rule. As I noted in a recent post,

Hearsay is generally inadmissible because it is unreliable. Statements made for purposes of medical diagnosis or treatment, however, are admissible based in large part on the "selfish-motive doctrine.  In other words, a person seeking medical treatment is unlikely to lie to a medical professional and risk a misdiagnosis or mistreatment.

Obviously, this rationale can extend to close family members or friends. A wife wouldn't want to lie to a doctor about the condition of her husband or child, lest the family member be misdiagnosed or mistreated. The same rationale, however, doesn't extend to strangers or casual acquaintances. If someone sees a stranger hurt, they might be a good citizen and tell an arriving paramedic what really happened out of concern for the injured person. But the speaking stranger might also lie and not really care about the consequences to the injured stranger. Therefore, as in Jackson, the rule doesn't cover statements made by strangers or causual acquaintances.



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