STATE v. WILLIAM FAY, SC 19350

Judicial District of Ansonia-Milford

 

†††††† Criminal; Confidentiality of Psychiatric Records; Whether Trial Courtís Refusal to Conduct In Camera Review of Deceased Victimís Psychiatric Records Violated Defendantís Rights to Confrontation and Due Process.† The defendant was charged with murder after he shot and killed his brother.† Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion requesting that the court conduct an in camera review of the victimís medical records, including psychiatric and drug treatment records, to determine whether they contained any information that would be relevant to his claim of self-defense.† Thereafter, in connection with that motion, the defendant filed a motion for an evidentiary hearing, whereby he sought to have the victimís psychiatrist testify regarding whether, at the time of the incident that gave rise to the murder charge, the victim was receiving medications that might have caused or contributed to his aggressive behavior.† The defendant contended that, although the executor of the victimís estate did not consent to waive the psychiatrist-patient privilege on behalf of the victim, the victimís privilege was outweighed by his sixth amendment right to confrontation.† The court denied the motion for an evidentiary hearing, stating that, in the absence of a waiver of the psychiatrist-patient privilege by the patient or his authorized representative, the disclosure of all confidential ďcommunications and recordsĒ between a psychiatrist and his patient is prohibited by General Statutes ß 52-146e, even for the limited purpose of an in camera examination.† The court observed that if a witness refuses to consent to an in camera review of his psychiatric records, the witnessí testimony may be stricken pursuant to State v. Esposito, 192 Conn. 166 (1984), in order to safeguard the defendantís right to confrontation.† That remedy, the court noted, was not available here as the psychiatric records at issue did not belong to a witness.† At the conclusion of the trial, the defendant was convicted of manslaughter in the second degree.† He appeals, claiming that the trial courtís refusal to conduct an in camera review deprived him of his constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him, specifically, those witnesses whose testimony, according to the defendant, indicated that the defendant was the initial aggressor. †The defendant notes that the Supreme Court has yet to address the issue of how a defendantís right to confrontation may be protected where, as here, the psychiatric records sought are those of a deceased person and the deceased personís representative has refused to waive the psychiatrist-patient privilege.† Additionally, the defendant claims that the courtís refusal to conduct an in camera review violated his due process rights because it deprived him of potentially exculpatory evidence.† The defendant maintains that a proper balance between protecting the confidentiality of privileged records and the constitutional rights of a defendant to the disclosure of exculpatory or impeaching evidence requires an in camera review of the records even in the absence of a waiver by the privilege-holder, at least where a defendant can establish a reasonable basis to believe that the records are relevant.††