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Hearsay Statements to Doctors May be Admissible at Molestation Trial

November 8, 2018

In State v. Almanza, the Georgia Supreme Court held that a mother’s hearsay statement to a doctor identifying the defendant as the one who molested her child may be admissible at trial.

The defendant was indicted for child molestation, incest, aggravated sexual battery, statutory rape, and aggravated child molestation. The alleged victim and her mother then left the county and were unable to be located prior to trial.

The State sought to introduce statements that the mother made to the girl’s treating physicians which specifically identified the defendant as having performed sexual acts with the girl. Both physicians testified that the information identifying the defendant as the perpetrator came only from the mother.

The trial court held that the fact that the girl was reportedly abused was admissible, but that any statement by the mother identifying the defendant as the perpetrator would be inadmissible.

The Court of Appeals affirmed and ruled that the mother’s statements to the doctors as to the defendant’s identity was not admissible under O.C.G.A. § 24-8-803 which does provide for the admission of certain hearsay statements made for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment (See our previous post, Mother’s Statements to Doctors Inadmissible at Molestation Trial).

24-8-803(4) provides for an exception to the general hearsay rule for “[s]tatements made for purposes of medical diagnosis or treatment and describing medical history, or past or present symptoms, pain, or sensations, or the inception or general character of the cause or external source thereof insofar as reasonably pertinent to diagnosis or treatment.”

In determining the admissibility of hearsay statements under the medical exception, the Supreme Court rejected the cases relied upon by the Court of Appeals and, instead, adopted the two-prong test set out in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in U.S. v. Renville.

In Renville, it was held that in order for a statement to be admissible under this exception, the court must make the following two findings: (1) the declarant’s motive in making the statement must be such as is reasonably relied on by a physician in treatment or diagnosis; and (2) the content of the statement must be such as is reasonably relied on by a physician in treatment or diagnosis.

The Supreme Court noted that several federal courts applying the Renville test have found that statements identifying the perpetrator may be admitted under the medical exception in child sexual abuse cases. Rather than rule on the merits, the Court remanded this case back to the Court of Appeals to apply the Renville test and reconsider whether the mother’s statements should be admissible.

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