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Supreme Court hears arguments in victims' advocates subpoena case

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The Indiana Supreme Court heard oral arguments today involving the subpoena of records from a domestic violence agency by a defendant who had been charged with two counts of Class A felony child molesting. The agency argued that due to statutory privilege between victims and advocates they did not need to provide the requested information.

In In re Subpoena to Crisis Connection, No. 19S05-1012-CR-678, defendant Ronald K. Fromme requested that Crisis Connection, a domestic violence agency with locations in Jasper, Tell City, and Rockport, release records on a person who had talked with advocates at the Jasper location.

The trial court ordered Crisis Connection to produce the records for an in camera review, but the organization asserted that Indiana Code 35-37-6-9 creates an “absolute privilege” for advocacy organizations. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision July 15, 2010.

In today’s oral arguments, Jon Laramore, representing Crisis Connection, said that the privilege between a victim and advocate was the same as that between a psychotherapist, social worker, or physician and a patient or client.

Justice Frank Sullivan Jr. asked Laramore if, because Crisis Connection received government funding, it should be considered a government agency similar to the way law enforcement is a government agency, and information from law enforcement is available to the defendant.

Laramore said that his client did receive federal funding, as do many domestic violence agencies, but that it is run as a private organization.

It was pointed out that if a counselor for victims learns that there might be child abuse, the counselor must issue a report to Indiana Department of Child Services. The organizations don’t release their clients’ entire files in those cases, just the information needed for those reports.

The counselors for these organizations also tell their clients that everything they say is confidential, and they explain that if there is suspected child abuse they are required to file a report with DCS, Laramore said. A victim can also sign a waiver if he or she no longer wants the record to remain confidential.

If the court considers balancing when a defendant can subpoena a domestic violence organization with the right to confidentiality, Laramore asked the justices to consider People v. Stanaway, a Michigan case that said defendants must have concrete evidence showing why they are seeking information and not just speculation.

He added that there are currently at least 25 subpoenas pending against domestic violence advocacy organizations around Indiana.

S. Anthony Long, Fromme’s attorney, said the request was justified for his client’s defense. He also said that his client met two of the three steps used in balancing this kind of request based on Wlliams v. State of Indiana: a sufficient designation of the items sought to be discovered; the items requested are material to the defense; and if the particularity and materiality requirements are met, the trial court must grant the request unless there is a showing of “paramount interest” in non-disclosure.

Long and the justices discussed the statute, and examined the question, “if the Legislature took the time to carve out exceptions to the privilege for advocates, why didn’t they include situations like Fromme’s?”

They also discussed the difference between Williams in Indiana and Stanaway in Michigan.

Justice Sullivan asked how Long knew there was something in the records and that he wasn’t just “fishing,” as Laramore put it in his briefs.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard also commented that as someone who reads child molestation cases for a living, what Long described as strained family relations and other issues that lead Long to believe there is something in the record that could help his client’s case were “extraordinarily ordinary” circumstances and did not seem to show any concrete evidence for this particular case.

This case was previously reported  in the Jan. 5-18, 2011 edition of Indiana Lawyer.
 

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  1. I can understand a 10 yr suspension for drinking and driving and not following the rules,but don't you think the people who compleate their sentences and are trying to be good people of their community,and are on the right path should be able to obtain a drivers license to do as they please.We as a state should encourage good behavior instead of saying well you did all your time but we can't give you a license come on.When is a persons time served than cause from where I'm standing,its still a punishment,when u can't have the freedom to go where ever you want to in car,truck ,motorcycle,maybe their should be better programs for people instead of just throwing them away like daily trash,then expecting them to change because they we in jail or prison for x amount of yrs.Everyone should look around because we all pay each others bills,and keep each other in business..better knowledge equals better community equals better people...just my 2 cents

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  3. I expressed my thought in the title, long as it was. I am shocked that there is ever immunity from accountability for ANY Government agency. That appears to violate every principle in the US Constitution, which exists to limit Government power and to ensure Government accountability. I don't know how many cases of legitimate child abuse exist, but in the few cases in which I knew the people involved, in every example an anonymous caller used DCS as their personal weapon to strike at innocent people over trivial disagreements that had no connection with any facts. Given that the system is vulnerable to abuse, and given the extreme harm any action by DCS causes to families, I would assume any degree of failure to comply with the smallest infraction of personal rights would result in mandatory review. Even one day of parent-child separation in the absence of reasonable cause for a felony arrest should result in severe penalties to those involved in the action. It appears to me, that like all bureaucracies, DCS is prone to interpret every case as legitimate. This is not an accusation against DCS. It is a statement about the nature of bureaucracies, and the need for ADDED scrutiny of all bureaucratic actions. Frankly, I question the constitutionality of bureaucracies in general, because their power is delegated, and therefore unaccountable. No Government action can be unaccountable if we want to avoid its eventual degeneration into irrelevance and lawlessness, and the law of the jungle. Our Constitution is the source of all Government power, and it is the contract that legitimizes all Government power. To the extent that its various protections against intrusion are set aside, so is the power afforded by that contract. Eventually overstepping the limits of power eliminates that power, as a law of nature. Even total tyranny eventually crumbles to nothing.

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