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The psychotherapist-patient privilege is a recognized privilege. Though declining to delineate the privilege's full contours in a way that would govern all conceivable future questions in this area, the United States Supreme Court has recognized that this privilege can be appropriate in certain circumstances. The Court, however, mindful of the burden imposed on the judiciary's truth-seeking function, unambiguously has limited the psychotherapist-patient privilege's applicability to those instances in which the patient's statement was made in confidence, holding that the privilege covers confidential, communications made to licensed psychiatrists and psychologists and confidential communications made to licensed social workers in the course of psychotherapy.
Defendant John C. Auster had informed his therapist that unless the managers of his workers' compensation claim continued to pay benefits, he would carry out his plan of violent retribution against them. The therapist notified the managers pursuant to La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 9:2800.2. The authorities were called, defendant was arrested and indicted for extortion. Though denying defendant’s motion to dismiss the indictment, the district court ruled that communications between defendant and his therapist were inadmissible at trial under the psychotherapist-patient privilege. The government appealed, arguing that defendant had no reasonable expectation of confidentiality when he made the threat.
Were the communications between the defendant and his therapist inadmissible at trial under the psychotherapist-patient privilege?
On review, the court reversed the suppression order. The explicit confidentiality requirement for the psychotherapist-patient privilege was fatal to defendant's claim of privilege. Defendant knew when he made the threat that it would be forwarded to the managers, and thus, he had no reasonable basis to conclude that the statement was confidential. Because defendant had no reasonable expectation of confidentiality, knowing that the statements would be relayed to the relevant target, the cost-benefit scales favored disclosure.