Confidential communications between a licensed psychotherapist and her patients in the course of diagnosis or treatment are protected from compelled disclosure under Fed. R. Evid. 501.
Petitioner was administrator of decedent's estate and respondent here was a former police officer. Respondent shot the decedent during the course of duty. As a result, petitioner brought suit alleging respondent had violated deceased's constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 and for wrongful death under 740 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 180/1 et seq. (1994). During the course of discovery, petitioner requested notes obtained during respondent's psychotherapist sessions. Respondents refused to disclose the notes. The trial court advised the jury that there was no legal justification for respondents' failure to respond and that the jury could therefore presume that the contents of the notes would have been unfavorable to respondents. The appellate court reversed and remanded. On certiorari, the Court affirmed the existence of a psychotherapist-patient privilege, but rejected the balancing component of the privilege because doing so would eviscerate the effectiveness of the privilege.
Was it appropriate for federal courts to recognize a "psychotherapist privilege" under Rule 501 of the Federal Rules of Evidence?
The conversations between Officer Redmond and Karen Beyer and the notes taken during their counseling sessions are protected from compelled disclosure under Rule 501 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. The purpose of the attorney-client privilege is to "encourage full and frank communication between attorneys and their clients and thereby promote broader public interests in the observance of law and administration of justice. The Court, however, rejected the balancing component of the privilege, which would make the promise of confidentiality contingent upon the trial judge's later evaluation of the relative importance of the patient's interest in privacy and the evidentiary need for disclosure, because doing so would eviscerate the effectiveness of the privilege.