People v. David Rivera


AD1 order dated October 11, 2012, reversing judgment of conviction and ordering a new trial. Decision below: 99 AD3d 535, 952 NYS2d 438. Read, J., granted leave to People June 6, 2013. Decided May 5, 2015.

ISSUES PRESENTED: Whether the defendant's treating psychiatrst should have been allowed to testify at trial about the defendant's admissions of sexual abuse; whether the proper Tarasoff disclosure operated to waive the docter-patient privilege.

Issue before the Court: whether the physician-patient privilege allowed defendant’s admission to his psychiatrist that he had abused n 11-year-old child.


Held: Defendant’s statements to his treating psychiatrist that he had sexually abused an 11-year-old relative were shielded from admission against him in a criminal trial by the physician-patient privilege.


CAL Observes: After learning that he had been accused of sexually abusing an 11-year-old relative, defendant was taken to a hospital emergency room after complaining of depression and suicidal ideation. There, he admitted to his treating psychiatrist that he had sexually abused the child. CPLR § 4504(a) provides that, unless waived, a “person authorized to practice medicine ... shall not be allowed to disclose any information which he acquired in attending a patient in a professional capacity, and which was necessary to enable him to act in that capacity” (see, CPLR § 4507 regarding the psychologist-patient privilege, which is more akin to the more protective attorney-client privilege, see, People v. Wilkins, 65 N.Y.2d 172 (1985)). Notwithstanding section 4504(a)’s prohibition, the People sought to introduce that admission at defendant’s criminal trial arguing, among other things that, because CPLR § 4504(b) requires doctors to disclose information that a patient less than 16 years old has been the victim of a crime, the privilege did not apply to introduction of statements subject to mandatory disclosure. The Court disagreed, finding that, absent a specific statutory exception allowing admission, the physician-patient privilege prohibited the statement’s use. While the Court noted the paramount importance of protecting children, it concluded that disclosure of abuse was enough; admissibility at a criminal trial was unnecessary. The Court’s unanimous ruling, affording the privilege “broad and liberal” construction, is a reaffirmation of the importance of evidentiary privilege rules.