High Court lays down norms for release of mental health records of sexual assault victims

The New Jersey Supreme Court has set new guidelines for defendants seeking details about victims’ mental states prior to alleged attacks.

The court has prepared a new structure a unanimous decision Monday aimed to balance a defendant’s constitutional right to a meaningful defense with a victim’s right to the privacy of their health records.

Justice Douglas Facial, writing his first decision since his joined the state supreme court In October, Essex County overturned lower court rulings in the case that required prosecutors to produce mental health records of the victim for six months before and after the alleged incident.

A generalized statement that a victim is “insane” doesn’t justify access to her health records, especially when those records are about something as private as mental health, Fasiel said.

“The greater the invasion of someone’s privacy, the greater the burden the defendant must show for the information sought,” Facciole wrote. “For example, an enhanced standard of substantial necessity is imposed when a defendant requests an alleged victim to undergo a psychiatric or gynecological examination because the psychiatric and physical examination may involve extraordinary intrusion into an alleged victim’s mind and body.” Is.”

Attorney Alexander Shalom, who filed a brief in the case, is director of Supreme Court Advocacy at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. He celebrated the ruling as “a rejection of the old hackneyed idea that any consumer of mental health resources is somehow insane and untrustworthy.”

“Mental health records are intensely private, and victims need to feel they can access the courts without being paraded before the court and the public,” Shalom said.

Shalom said Monday’s decision, however, also recognized that in rare cases, a mental health condition could raise questions about a victim’s ability to remember or relate what happened, allowing judicial review of their health records. becomes relevant.

According to the decision, the case in question involved a man who was accused of second-degree sexual assault for repeatedly performing oral sex on his cousin after an October 2018 party when both were intoxicated.

According to the ruling, Terrell M. Chambers denied that he assaulted the woman, told officers that he fabricated the incident and had a history of mental illness, mental institutionalization and suicidal ideation.

Other relatives supported Chambers’ claims, and defense attorneys petitioned the court for her mental health records until that night.

But prosecutors contested the request because DNA testing showed the man’s saliva was present on the woman’s underwear, and Chambers admitted to the assault in subsequent calls with the victim, which detectives secretly recorded, under the rule of law. According.

Despite that evidence, Chambers maintained his innocence. He told detectives he lied on the phone call because he was scared, according to the ruling. His lawyers dismissed the DNA evidence, saying that Chambers had cried on his cousin’s shoulder earlier that night and that he may have wiped that fluid on his underwear, or may have imagined the attack, according to the ruling.

The judge ordered prosecutors to hand over the woman’s mental health records, and an appellate panel denied their subsequent motion for reconsideration.

Fasciale, in quashing both orders, the records that defense attorneys seek must prove the relevance of the victim’s mental health history, showing the victim’s “ability to see, recall or recall the alleged assault, or affects the ability to imagine or fabricate it.” ,

Even if they do, the judge must review the records in private and allow disclosure only if they meet that standard, Facial wrote. Victims should also be informed and given a chance to be heard, he wrote.

Monday’s verdict was second time in two months The Supreme Court settled a dispute between the rights of defendants and victims in sexual assault cases, four years after state legislators Security For victims of sexual assault due to increased risks of emotional trauma.

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