Thursday, March 02, 2006

child witness - Tender Years Hearsay Act - psych. exam

Commonwealth v. Shearer - Superior Court - March 1, 2006

Superior Court reversed the trial court's order that a child-victim be examined by a private psychologist retained by alleged abuser prior to a competency determination by trial court under the Tender Years Hearsay Act, 42 Pa. C.S. 5985.1.

The appellate court said that it was "beyond doubt that a court-ordered psychiatric examination intrudes into an important aspect of human privacy concerns….While trial courts must regularly make competency rulings, a court-ordered psychological examination should never be the starting point for such a determination…..Such an examination should not be ordered unless the record demonstrates the existence of a 'compelling reason' for the examination….The fact that a witness is an alleged child victim of sexual abuse does not, in and of itself, negate the requirement of demonstrating the necessity for court-ordered psychological examination."

The court agreed with the Commonwealth that there was no evidence showing that the child witness "suffers from any mental condition that would require a psychiatric examination before a competency hearing can be conducted."

Donald Marritz
MidPenn Legal Services