By: Jennifer A. Crissman, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group
In our fact pattern from Part 1 of our series, the first indication of child sexual abuse was in the statements Aaron and Billy made to Grandmother. Family law attorneys in Guilford County would be wise to try to have these statements admitted under the exception in Rule 803(4) on hearsay, “Statements for Purposes of Medical Diagnosis or Treatment.” N.C.G.S. § 8C-1, Rule 803(4). While a practitioner’s first inclination may be to dismiss this hearsay exception as irrelevant since the statements were made to Grandmother who is not a medical professional, this exception is extremely flexible. To examine the Medical Diagnosis exception further, let us review the case of State v. Smith. The case of State v. Smith is directly synonymous with our fact pattern and allowed the statements made to a grandmother into evidence under exception 803(4). State v. Smith, 315 N.C. 76, 337 S.E.2d 833(1985).
In State v. Smith two cousins, young girls ages four and five were sexually assaulted by an older male family member. When the children’s Grandmother came to visit, the four-year-old told her Grandmother about the sexual assault. The Grandmother told Mother about the child’s statements, and both girls were taken to the hospital. At the hospital, the girls were examined by a doctor and spoke with a Rape Task Force volunteer who was a Registered Nurse, and the Rape Task Force Coordinator to recount the sexual assaults that had taken place. At trial, the statements of the children made to the Grandmother, the Rape Task Force volunteer, and the Rape Task Force Coordinator were all admitted into evidence under the Statements for Purposes of Medical Diagnosis or Treatment hearsay exception under Rule 803(4).
With regard to the statements to Grandmother, the North Carolina Supreme Court held that the children’s statements to Grandmother were clearly within the Rule 803(4) hearsay exception. The Court explains that although grandmother was not a medical professional, in the commentary to Rule 803(4), the drafters of the statute specifically indicated that statements made to members of the family might be included under the exception.
State v. Smith is also helpful as it discusses the intent of the child when making the statements. Normally for a statement to qualify for the 803(4) hearsay exception, it must be made by the declarant with the intent to obtain medical diagnosis or treatment. Smith recognizes that young children need not specifically request medical treatment. The Court noted that children can not seek medical treatment for themselves, they must rely on their caretakers to get the treatment for them. This is beneficial in getting statements admitted, as there is not a requirement for the child to specifically request medical attention. Here the court can use its discretion in determining whether the child’s report of the incident to a caregiver would reasonably lead to medical intervention. If the statement would reasonably lead to intervention, the statement would be admissible under the hearsay exception 803(4) Statements for Purposes of Medical Diagnosis or Treatment.
In Part 3 of our series, we will review the case of State v. McLaughlin, a recent N.C. Court of Appeals case that provides a comprehensive overview of this exception and valuable language to Guilford County family law practitioners.