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Pa. v. Ritchie

Supreme Court of the United States

December 3, 1986, Argued ; February 24, 1987, Decided

No. 85-1347


 [*42]  [***48]  [**993]    JUSTICE POWELL announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, III-B, III-C, and IV, and an opinion with respect to Part III-A, in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE WHITE, and JUSTICE O'CONNOR join.

 The question presented in this case is whether and to what extent a State's interest  [**994]  in the confidentiality of its investigative  [*43]  files concerning child [****10]  abuse must yield to a criminal defendant's Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment right to discover favorable evidence.

As part of its efforts to combat child abuse, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has established Children and Youth Services (CYS), a protective service agency charged with investigating cases of suspected mistreatment and neglect. In 1979, respondent George Ritchie was charged with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, incest, and corruption of a minor. The victim of the alleged attacks was his 13-year-old daughter, who claimed that she had been assaulted by Ritchie two or three times per week during the previous four years. The girl reported the incidents to the police, and the matter then was referred to the CYS.

During pretrial discovery, Ritchie served CYS with a subpoena, seeking access to the records concerning the daughter. Ritchie requested disclosure of the file related to the immediate charges, as well as certain records that he claimed were compiled in 1978, when CYS investigated a separate report by an unidentified source that Ritchie's children were being abused. 2 CYS refused to comply with the subpoena, claiming that the records were privileged [****11]  under Pennsylvania law. The relevant statute provides that all reports and other information obtained in the course of a CYS investigation must be kept confidential, subject to 11 specific exceptions. 3  [***49]  One of those exceptions is that the agency may  [*44]  disclose the reports to a "court of competent jurisdiction pursuant to a court order." Pa. Stat. Ann., Tit. 11, § 2215(a)(5) (Purdon Supp. 1986).

 [****12]  Ritchie moved to have CYS sanctioned for failing to honor the subpoena, and the trial court held a hearing on the motion in chambers. Ritchie argued that he was entitled to the information because the file might contain the names of favorable witnesses, as well as other, unspecified exculpatory evidence. He also requested disclosure of a medical report that he believed was compiled during the 1978 CYS investigation. Although the trial judge acknowledged that he had not examined the entire CYS file, he accepted a CYS representative's assertion that there was no medical report in the record. 4 The judge then denied the motion and refused to order CYS to disclose the files. 5 See App. 72a.

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480 U.S. 39 *; 107 S. Ct. 989 **; 94 L. Ed. 2d 40 ***; 1987 U.S. LEXIS 558 ****; 55 U.S.L.W. 4180



Disposition:  509 Pa. 357, 502 A. 2d 148, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.


cross-examination, confidentiality, defense counsel, disclosure, trial court, questioning, cases, proceedings, witnesses, right to confront, subpoena, records, trial judge, impeachment, pretrial, documents, effective, files, daughter, confrontation, further proceedings, prior statement, child abuse, plurality, contempt, compulsory process, credibility, prejudicial, protections, lineup

Criminal Law & Procedure, Crimes Against Persons, Domestic Offenses, General Overview, Evidence, Government Privileges, Official Information Privilege, Reports Privilege, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Criminal Process, Compulsory Process, Trials, Defendant's Rights, Right to Confrontation, Civil Procedure, Jurisdiction on Certiorari, Considerations Governing Review, State Court Decisions, Appeals, Reviewability, Appellate Jurisdiction, Interlocutory Orders, Interlocutory Appeals, Discovery & Inspection, Discovery Misconduct, Examination of Witnesses, Cross-Examination, Legal Ethics, Prosecutorial Conduct, Right to Testify, Discovery & Disclosure, Disclosure, Mandatory Disclosures, Types of Evidence, Testimony, Right to Compulsory Process, Brady Materials, Duty of Disclosure