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Thursday, May 02, 2013

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court issues one today

In Gerald P. VanPatten v. State of Indiana, a 26-page, 5-0 opinion (including a separate, highly footnoted, 5-page concurring opinion signed by two justices), Justice David writes:

When a competent adult patient visits a doctor and provides the physician with a medical history intending to aid in their diagnosis or treatment, we presume those statements are made truthfully because adults know that lying to one’s doctor risks misdiagnosis or mistreatment. Accordingly, the Rules of Evidence generally allow medical professionals to provide substantive testimony as to the statements their patients make in the course of providing their medical history—even though that testimony would ordinarily be excluded as hearsay. When the patient is a young child, however, it is not so easy to assume that he or she recognized the merit of providing a nurse or doctor with truthful information. Because of this, we require a more robust evidentiary foundation be laid before the same type of hearsay testimony is seen as reliable enough to be admitted.

Here, a defendant was convicted on two counts of child molestation and the only substantive evidence implicating him in those crimes was a forensic nurse examiner who testified about statements made by the alleged victim—a six-year-old child who, at the time of trial, had recanted. Based on our review of the trial record, however, there was an insufficient showing that the child victim in this case was motivated to provide truthful information to her nurse. Because of this, the nurse’s testimony should not have been admitted as substantive evidence against the defendant and we therefore vacate his convictions with respect to those two counts of child molestation. * * *

Dickson, C.J., and Rucker, J., concur.

Massa, J., concurs in result with separate opinion in which Rush, J., concurs [which begins] Although I agree with the majority’s analysis of S.D.’s statements to Moss under our Rules of Evidence, I write separately because I believe the admissibility of such evidence can and should be evaluated pursuant to the Protected Person Statute, Indiana Code § 35-37-4-6 (2008 & Supp. 2012), not Rule 803(4). Child victim hearsay presents a unique evidentiary problem in prosecutions for abuse and molestation. In cases where the child is unavailable to testify, these statements are frequently the strongest evidence of a defendant’s guilt. Deborah Paruch, Silencing the Victims in Child Sexual Abuse Prosecutions: The Confrontation Clause and Children’s Hearsay Statements Before and After Michigan v. Bryant, 28 Touro L. Rev. 85, 114–15 (2012). Even when the child does testify, the hearsay statements—made soon after the offense was committed, while it was still a fresh memory—are often more detailed and thus more convincing than live testimony. Id.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 2, 2013 12:19 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions