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Do constitutional rights outweigh patient confidentiality?

On Behalf of | Oct 28, 2021 | Criminal Defense

Every American’s constitutional rights are critical, but patient confidentiality is important as well. Therapist-patient confidentiality gives a person the right to keep their records private. Criminal defense teams in Ohio and around the country sometimes have confidentiality issues.

Case involving therapist-patient confidentiality

In 2014, Colorado police charged a man with murdering his wife. There was not enough evidence in court to rule out homicide or suicide. The crime scene analyst said that it was suicide, but the medical examiner said that it might be a homicide. According to reports, the man found out about his wife’s affair three days before her death. Other witnesses told the court that she had thought about suicide. The man’s criminal defense team gave a subpoena to her therapist, but the prosecution had the judge quash the subpoena because of the state’s therapist-patient privilege. The court convicted the man of murder.

Protecting a person’s rights

It’s not uncommon for courts to exclude mental health records. Conversations between patients and therapists have privilege in all 50 states, which allows people to be truthful about their fears, memories and emotions. Psychotherapy only works if the patients are comfortable enough to be truthful.

Issues come from the fact that criminal defendants have constitutional rights. Every defendant has due process rights before a jury with evidence that can influence the trial. All defendants can question witnesses under the Sixth Amendment. If statements are behind therapist-patient confidentiality, they can’t be included.

How the courts handle confidentiality

Courts don’t consistently weigh therapist-patient privilege against a criminal defendant’s constitutional rights. Seven states block mental health records for defendants. A couple of states force the defendants to prove that the information can help their defense. Many states allow therapist-patient confidentiality in cases as long as the information is relevant.

The ability for a criminal defendant to use confidential statements in their defense depends on the crime, court and state. The court typically reads the therapist-patient confidentiality statements to decide if the defense can use them. The law only allows statements that affect the case.