Friday, April 07, 2017

Statements made in court-ordered therapy used later to enhance new sentence

US v. Lara:  At Lara’s sentencing for a SORNA violation, the sentencing court heard certain admissions Lara made as part of the conditions of probation for a prior sex offense - he had been participating in a court-ordered sex offender treatment program through the Virginia Department of Corrections - and enhanced his sentence as a result.  Lara argued that the treatment program was protected by the psychotherapist-patient privilege and the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination; the government argued that he waived any privilege by consenting to the disclosure earlier.  The Fourth Circuit agreed with the government, and found that Lara affirmatively waived any privilege when he agreed to the disclosure of the statements he made in the treatment program.

As a part of his treatment for his prior sex offense, Lara signed a form acknowledging the waiver of confidentiality of statements he made a social worker, who conducted his intake into the treatment program.  During the intake, Lara had made some incriminating disclosures about this sexual history and other criminal activity.  He also confirmed this information in a polygraph exam and a written statement.

The Fourth Circuit discussed how a district court’s decision whether to recognize a privilege is a mixed question of law and fact which it considers de novo.  Under Federal Rule of Evidence 501, a testimonial privilege exists for psychotherapist-patient communications, which may be waived by knowingly and voluntarily relinquishment.  The Fourth Circuit held that Lara affirmatively waived any privilege that may have applied to his incriminating statements here.

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