Hudgins v. Moore

524 S.E.2d 105
Brief(s) Filed: 2/98, 2/99
Court: Supreme Court of South Carolina
Year of Decision: 1999

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 195KB)

Issue

Whether the prosecution could use raw MMPI-A test materials, administered to determine the defendant's competency to stand trial, to argue at trial that the defendant admitted to being a liar

Index Topics

Confidentiality/Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege; Tests (Use, Validity, & Security of Psychological Tests & Test Data)

Facts

In a criminal trial of a minor for capital murder, the prosecution used raw psychological test data, generated during a court-ordered competency and criminal responsibility examination of the defendant, to impeach the defendant's testimony. The defendant, Hudgins, was found guilty at trial. On direct appeal, he challenged the prosecution's use of the MMPI-A responses at trial. The Supreme Court of South Carolina ruled that the issue had not been preserved for review due to defense counsel's failure to object to the specific challenged questions. Defendant then filed a post-conviction motion alleging ineffectiveness of counsel. The circuit court denied the motion, ruling that defense counsel was not ineffective in failing to object to the prosecution's use of the MMPI-A because nothing objectionable had occurred — the use of the raw test data was "within the bounds of appropriate examination…[and]…there was no valid objection to its use for impeachment." Defendant filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the South Carolina Supreme Court to review that decision.

APA's Position

APA, the South Carolina Psychiatric Association and Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities Inc. filed a brief as amici arguing that: (1) the lower court's ruling effectively eliminated the ability of trained mental health personnel to conduct accurate and adequate competency and criminal responsibility examinations because, should the ruling be allowed to stand, mental health workers would be required to advise any defendant in a pre-trial examination that any statements he makes on any psychological test, or in connection with any psychological or psychiatric examination, may be used to impeach him at trial, thereby making it more difficult to obtain candid and valid responses from defendants; (2) the ability of psychologists and psychiatrists to render effective pretrial examinations would be greatly diminished; and (3) the particular use made of the MMPI-A data was highly improper and prejudicial since only trained professionals should attempt to interpret or draw conclusions from a defendant's responses on the MMPI-A and responses should never be viewed in isolation.

Results

The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed Hudgins' conviction. While it found that there was no constitutional violation, it held that the MMPI-A answers were inadmissible under state law, and that the information obtained from a court-ordered mental health examination may not be used "for purposes other than ordered by the court" due to the "need to protect the integrity" of such an exam. The court further found that counsel's failure to object to the admissibility of the MMPI-A answers constituted ineffective assistance of counsel meriting a reversal.