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Justices order new molestation trial after nurse’s statements admitted improperly

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Ruling that statements two 6-year-olds made regarding alleged molestation to a nurse should not have been admitted under the hearsay exception in Ind. Rule of Evidence 803(4), the Indiana Supreme Court reversed two child molesting convictions and ordered a new trial.

In Gerald P. VanPatten v. State of Indiana, 02S03-1205-CR-251, Justice Steven David wrote that “the question before us is whether the record reflects that the child adequately understood the role of the medical professional and the purpose of the visit in order for us to infer that the child was motivated to speak truthfully.”

E.R. spent the night at her friend’s home in August 2009. The next morning, E.R. and S.D. claimed that S.D.’s father, Gerald VanPatten, molested them. The children were interviewed by a Department of Child Services caseworker and later by nurse Joyce Moss at the Fort Wayne Sexual Assault Treatment Center. E.R. claimed she was molested that night; S.D. said she had been previously molested. A biological sample was able to be collected from only E.R.

VanPatten was convicted of Class A felony and Class C felony child molesting related to his daughter and Class A felony child molesting related to E.R.

He argued on appeal that Moss’ testimony as to what E.R. and S.D. told her during their examinations should not have been admitted. She testified after S.D. took the stand and recanted her previous allegations. The trial court allowed Moss’ testimony as substantive evidence. He only challenged his convictions related to his daughter.

The two-step analysis outlined in McClain v. State, 675 N.E.2d 329, 331 (Ind. 1996), should be used to determine whether the nurse’s statements could be admitted under Rule 803(4). The first step is whether the declarant is motivated to provide truthful information in order to promote diagnosis and treatment; the second is whether the content of the statement is such that an expert in the field would reasonably rely on it in rendering diagnosis or treatment.

When testifying at trial, Moss had no specific memory of what she said to the two girls prior to interviewing them and there was no testimony to establish the girls knew what telling the truth meant or the importance of it in a medical examination, David wrote.

“This is not to say that Moss did not necessarily discuss these things with S.D. and E.R., or that her work as a sexual assault examiner was somehow deficient. But without that firm indication of reliability in the record, we have no choice on appellate review but to conclude that the statements made to her by S.D. and E.R. should not have been admitted under the hearsay exception found in Indiana Rule of Evidence 803(4), and it was an abuse of the trial court’s discretion to do so,” David wrote.

The justices found this to be a reversible error regarding the convictions relating to S.D. and ordered a new trial on the two charges.

Justice Mark Massa concurred in result, in which Justice Loretta Rush joined. Massa wrote that Moss’ statements may possibly be entered under the Protected Person Statute rather than Rule 803(4) and that on remand, if the prosecutor wants to admit Moss’ statements under that statute, the judge will have to conduct a hearing to determine whether those statements have “sufficient indications of reliability.”

 

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  • Nonsense
    Evidence or testimony is either admissable or it isn't. What is this nonsense about can't admit under one statute so we will make another statute that nullifies the other statute but the other statute is still law? There are so many laws on the books in this country that not one person, one lawyer, one prosecutor or one judge that knows what they are! In fact the people that proposed and/or enacted trhese laws don't know what they are either. Ignorance of the law must be an excuse, because the majority of the laws are written and/or passed by ignorant people. There is no doubt in my mind that even those people don't know the law.

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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