Brief Fact Summary. The administrator of decedent Ricky Allen’s (“Mr. Allen”) estate filed suit alleging Mr. Allen’s constitutional rights were violated when he was killed by the Respondent, Redmond (the “Respondent”), an on-duty police officer.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Federal Rules of Evidence (“F.R.E.”) Rule 501 authorizes the federal courts to define new privileges following the principles of common law.
Issue. Is it appropriate for federal courts to recognize a psychotherapist privilege under F.R.E. Rule 501?
If the federal courts recognize a psychotherapist privilege, should the privilege extend to confidential communications made to licensed social workers in the course of psychotherapy?
Should the conversation between the Respondent and her therapist and the notes taken during the counseling be protected from compelled disclosure?
Held. Justice John Paul Stevens (“J. Stevens”) delivered the opinion for the United States Supreme Court (“Supreme Court”) in holding that the federal courts should recognize a psychotherapist privilege.
Further, the privilege should extend to confidential communications made by licensed social workers in the course of psychotherapy.
The conversation between the Respondent and his therapist, and the notes taken during the counseling sessions, are protected from compelled disclosure under F.R.E. Rule 501.
Dissent. Justice Antonin Scalia (“J. Scalia”) issued a dissenting opinion in which Justice William Rehnquist (“J. Rehnquist”) joined. J. Scalia asserted that the privilege could prevent finding the truth and lead to injustice. Further, he argued that the Supreme Court should have addressed whether or not there is a clear need for the privilege, and whether it is appropriate to address the parameters of that privilege in common-law.
Discussion. All fifty states and the District of Columbia have enacted some form of psychotherapist privilege. Further, the Supreme Court notes that they believe allowing this new privilege is good public policy because of the need for confidence in mental health treatment.