Jaffee v. Redmond

518 U.S. 1
Brief Filed: 1/96
Court: Supreme Court of the United States
Year of Decision: 1996

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 1MB)

Issue

Whether a psychotherapist-patient privilege was recognized under Rule 501 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to review a decision of the Seventh Circuit that recognized the existence of a psychotherapist-patient privilege and held that confidential communications of a police officer with a licensed social worker were protected from compelled disclosure

Index Topic

Confidentiality/Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege

Facts

The defendant police officer shot and killed an individual to prevent the stabbing of another person. The decedent's family brought suit against the officer alleging constitutional violations and seeking damages for wrongful death. After the shooting, the officer sought counseling from a licensed clinical social worker. Plaintiffs sought to obtain information regarding the contents of the counseling sessions. The defendant refused, citing psychotherapist-patient privilege. The trial court found that the Federal Rules of Evidence did not provide for a psychotherapist-patient privilege. When the defendant continued to refuse to comply, the trial court instructed the jury that it could draw an adverse inference from this refusal and could presume that the contents of these communications would be unfavorable to the defendant. The jury awarded the plaintiffs $545,000 in damages. The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding that the Federal Rules of Evidence did, indirectly, recognize a psychotherapist-patient privilege because all fifty states recognized some sort of psychotherapist-patient privilege. The court reasoned that recognition of the privilege would serve to encourage troubled individuals as well as those who witness, participate in, and are intimately affected by acts of violence in today's stressful, crime ridden environment, to seek the necessary professional counseling and to assist mental health professionals to succeed in their endeavors. The plaintiffs sought review in the U.S. Supreme Court.

APA's Position

APA submitted an amicus brief arguing that: (1) Federal Rule of Evidence 501 authorizes the federal courts to recognize a psychotherapist-patient privilege; (2) common law principles, applied in the light of reason and experience, strongly support recognition of a psychotherapist-patient privilege in that (a) psychotherapeutic clients have a strong expectation of confidentiality, (b) confidentiality is essential to the success of psychotherapy, (c) society has a strong interest in fostering the psychotherapeutic relationship and in protecting client privacy, and (d) the benefits of the psychotherapist-patient privilege outweigh its costs; and (3) applying the psychotherapist-patient privilege using a case-by-case balancing approach would substantially undermine the value of the privilege.

Results

The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Seventh Circuit decision. The Court decision supported the arguments presented in the APA brief.