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Monday, May 23, 2016

Court of Appeals Holds That There Is No Exception to Physician Patient Privilege for Abuse Admitted to Psychiatrist Even If a Patient Is Cognizant of Psychiatrist's Reporting Obligations under Child Protection Statutes

In People v. David Rivera, No. 20, NYLJ 1202725546913, at *1 (Ct. of App., Decided May 5, 2015) defendant, while seeking treatment from a psychiatrist, admitted to sexually abusing an 11year old relative. The psychiatrist notified the Administration for Children's Services (ACS) of defendant's admission. Following an in camera review of the records, Supreme Court held that the admissions defendant made to his psychiatrist were privileged because they were made in the course of diagnosis and treatment of his condition. However, the court, while refusing to allow "the full extent of defendant's admissions" to be used, held that, because the psychiatrist had disclosed the reported abuse to ACS, the fact that defendant had admitted to the abuse was admissible .The Court of Appeals held that the trial court's ruling ran afoul of the physician patient privilege (see CPLR 4504 [a]). It rejected the People’s claim that, because defendant's admission related to the sexual abuse of a child, it was not privileged since defendant had no reason to believe that it would remain confidential. The Court of Appeals held that regardless of whether a physician is required or permitted by law to report instances of abuse or threatened future harm to authorities, which may involve the disclosure of confidential information, it does not follow that such disclosure necessarily constitutes an abrogation of the evidentiary privilege a criminal defendant enjoys under CPLR 4504 (a).

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