Court Assesses Patient-Therapist Privilege in Florida Sex Crime Cases

The law affords many rights to people accused of sex crimes, such as the right to confront their accusers. In some instances, however, the court may determine that the rights of the alleged victim or privilege between the victim and another party outweigh the defendant’s rights, and bar the defendant from seeking protected communications or impressions. Recently, the District Court of Appeals of Florida, First District, discussed when a defendant’s Sixth Amendment Right to confront his or her accuser overrides a doctor-patient privilege, in a case in which the defendant was charged with molesting a minor. If you are charged with committing a Clearwater sex crime it is prudent to engage a seasoned defense attorney to assist you in fighting to protect your rights.

Facts of the Case

It is alleged that the defendant was charged with committing multiple sex crimes against his adopted son, including sexual battery by a person in a position of familial authority and lascivious or lewd molestation of a child. Before the trial, the State produced two psychological assessments of the victim, that indicated issues with regards to his state of mind, credibility, and bias. The State then filed a motion for a protective order, barring the victim’s treating psychologists from testifying at trial. The trial court granted the order. During the trial, the State largely relied on the victim’s testimony regarding the alleged abuse. A jury found the defendant guilty of all charges, after which he appealed, arguing in part that the trial court erred in refusing to permit the defendant to introduce evidence from the victim’s treating psychologists.

Sixth Amendment Right to Confront Accusers

Under Florida law, the psychotherapist-patient privilege protects a person’s communications and records pertaining to mental health treatment from disclosure. While the law specifically provides for a waiver of the privilege in certain circumstances, none of them were present in this case. As such, the court analyzed whether the defendant was permitted to overcome the privilege to cross-examine the victim with information pertaining to his credibility and bias.

The appellate court noted that the trial court reviewed the documents in question in the subject case and found them to be relevant to the issues of the victim’s credibility and bias. Further, the court stated that under Florida law, credibility may be attacked by demonstrating that a witness is biased, or that a witness’s ability to recall an event is impaired. In sum, the court found that the information the defendant requested to use was limited to the material and relevant issue of whether the victim was biased or credible. Thus, the court ruled that the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront his witness required the disclosure of otherwise privileged records.

The court, therefore, vacated the defendant’s conviction and remanded the case for a new trial.

Speak with an Experienced Sex Crime Defense Attorney

If you were charged with child molestation or another sex crime in Clearwater, it is critical to engage a lawyer who will work to provide you with the best chance of a favorable result under the facts of your case. Attorney William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a seasoned Clearwater sex crime defense attorney who will work diligently to help you protect your interests. You can contact Mr. Hanlon by calling 727-897-5413 or via the online form to schedule a free and confidential meeting.

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