Legal Background

Hearsay evidence is defined as “an out of court statement … offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted,”1 and it is generally not admissible in court. Ms N’s statement that KC told her during the examination that Mr M was the person who touched her is, in fact, hearsay. However, in the United States, there are several exceptions to the hearsay rule that allow out-of-court statements to be used as evidence in court. One of these is if the statement is made for “medical diagnosis or treatment.” 

Hearsay evidence is usually inadmissible because it is considered untrustworthy. However, courts have held that “an individual seeking medical care is unlikely to lie about her medical history or symptoms because she knows that a false statement may cause misdiagnosis or mistreatment.”2 The appellate court held that KC’s statements to Ms N fall squarely within the scope of the exception to the hearsay rule. “KC spoke to the nurse practitioner as part of a sexual assault examination,” wrote the court in its decision. “As the nurse practitioner testified, one of the purposes of such an examination is to diagnose any physical, psychological, or emotional injuries the victim may have suffered and to prescribe an appropriate course of treatment. To diagnose and treat KC’s injuries, the nurse practitioner first had to find out what happened to her, and so she asked KC, ‘did something happen?’ KC’s statements describing the abuse she suffered were made in response to that question.” 

The court ruled that the statements satisfied the hearsay exception because “they were made for purposes of medical diagnosis or treatment, and were ‘reasonably pertinent’ to that subject.”

The court upheld the defendant’s sentence.

Protecting Yourself

Depending on your type of practice, you may find yourself in court someday — hopefully not as a defendant — but even testifying as a witness can be stressful. And memory is imperfect. Therefore, the best way to protect yourself here is the same as the best way to protect yourself in many legal situations: take copious, detailed notes. While memory can dim, good notes can be dependently relied upon indefinitely. 

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Ms Latner, a former criminal defense attorney, is a freelance medical writer in Port Washington, NY.

References

  1. New York State Unified Court System. Guide to New York Evidence, Article 8. Hearsay. 
  2. US v Kootswatewa, 3:15-cr-08034-DLR-1 (Cal 2017).