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3-step test needed to balance rights

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Indiana’s victim-advocate privilege is limited by a criminal defendant’s constitutional rights, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded today on the matter of first impression.

Crisis Connection Inc., a nonprofit that works with domestic violence and sexual assault victims, doesn’t believe it should have to turn over records to the court for an in camera review in Ronald Keith Fromme’s criminal case. Fromme was charged with two counts of Class A felony child molesting and he sought all records from the nonprofit relating to his two alleged victims and their mother.

The trial court found the records sought by Fromme were sufficiently identified, may be essential in determining the credibility of the witnesses, and may be material to his defense. The Court of Appeals took up the issue on interlocutory appeal and affirmed the order.

In In Re Subpoena to Crisis Connection Inc., State of Indiana v. Ronald Keith Fromme, No. 19A05-0910-CR-602, the Court of Appeals explored the scope of Indiana’s victim-advocate privilege and declined to hold the privilege is absolute. The privilege is conferred on communications made to counselors and any employee or volunteer, as well as participants in support groups. The statute does exclude information regarding alleged child abuse or neglect that must be reported by law from the definition of “confidential information,” but that doesn’t apply in the instant case. The information Fromme seeks is privileged.

They then turned to rulings from other jurisdictions on whether an absolute privilege must yield to Sixth Amendment rights to decide whether the records could be produced in camera, an issue left undecided in Pennsylvania v. Ritchie, 480 U.S. 39 (1987).

The judges found People v. Stanaway, 521 N.W.2d 557 (Mich. 1994) and other cases allowing for in camera review upon sufficient showing of need to be better reasoned than other cases that upheld the statutory privilege against a Sixth Amendment challenge. Stanaway and similar cases more closely resemble the approach Indiana has applied to other privileges, noted Judge Crone.

As is the case with precedent addressing other privileges in Indiana, a three-step test should be done to determine whether information is discoverable in a criminal case: there must be a sufficient designation of the items sought to be discovered; the items requested must be material to the defense; and if those requirements are met, the trial court must grant the request unless there is a showing of “paramount interest” in non-disclosure.

This test has been applied in several cases where the discovery sought was privileged or confidential, and it provides a useful framework for balancing the victim’s interest in privacy with a defendant’s constitutional rights, even before obtaining an in camera review, wrote the judge.

“While the State undoubtedly has an important interest in protecting the victim-advocate relationship, a defendant‘s rights guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment are also of great importance,” wrote Judge Crone. “The need to discover exculpatory evidence and effectively cross-examine witnesses is especially apparent in sex offense cases, which often hinge on witness credibility and which carry heavy potential penalties.”
 

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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