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State v. Barrett

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 21, 2018

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
PATRICK BARRETT JR., Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Cass County, Jeffrey L. Larson, Judge.

         The defendant appeals from his conviction for sexual abuse in the second degree.

          Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Mary K. Conroy, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Louis S. Sloven, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Bower and McDonald, JJ.

          McDONALD, Judge.

         Patrick Barrett Jr. was convicted of sexual abuse in the second degree arising out of his sexual abuse of a child under the age of twelve. In this direct appeal, Barrett challenges his conviction. He contends the district court erred in denying his discovery request for the child's mental-health and counseling records. He also contends the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion for new trial made on the ground the verdict was contrary to the weight of the evidence.

         I.

         Barrett's first claim of error relates to the district court's denial of his motion to obtain discovery of the child's mental-health and counseling records. Barrett's challenge raises a non-constitutional claim. This court "review[s] nonconstitutional challenges to a district court ruling on a discovery matter for an abuse of discretion." Powers v. State, 911 N.W.2d 774, 780 (Iowa 2018); accord State v. Neiderbach, 837 N.W.2d 180, 190 (Iowa 2013); State v. Thompson, 836 N.W.2d 470, 476 (Iowa 2013). "A reversal of a discovery ruling is warranted when the grounds underlying a district court order are clearly unreasonable or untenable." Powers, 911 N.W.2d at 780. "A district court decision is 'unreasonable or untenable' when it 'is not supported by substantial evidence or when it is based on an erroneous application of the law.'" Id. at 780 (quoting State v. Brown, 856 N.W.2d 685, 688 (Iowa 2014)).

         As a general rule, a "mental health professional" cannot "disclose any confidential communication properly entrusted to the person in the person's professional capacity" that was "necessary and proper to enable the person to discharge the functions of the person's office according to the usual course of practice or discipline." Iowa Code § 622.10(1) (2016). This statutory privilege "shall be absolute with regard to a criminal action." Iowa Code § 622.10(4)(a). This means the district court cannot "authorize or require the disclosure of any privileged records to a defendant in a criminal action." Iowa Code § 622.10(4)(a).

         There are two exceptions to the statutory privilege. First, a defendant can obtain discovery of privileged records upon showing the privilege holder voluntarily waived the confidentiality privilege. See Iowa Code § 622.10(4)(a)(1). Second, a defendant can obtain discovery of privileged records upon "demonstrating in good faith a reasonable probability that the information sought is likely to contain exculpatory information that is not available from any other source and for which there is a compelling need for the defendant to present a defense in the case." Iowa Code § 622.10(4)(a)(2)(a). If the defendant satisfies the threshold showing for the second exception, the district court must "conduct an in camera review of such records to determine whether exculpatory information is contained in such records." Iowa Code § 622.10(4)(a)(2)(b). "If exculpatory information is contained in the records, the court shall balance the need to disclose such information against the privacy interest of the privilege holder." Iowa Code § 622.10(4)(a)(2)(c).

         In this case, Barrett sought the child's mental-health and counseling records. The district court reviewed the child's mental-health and counseling records in camera. After reviewing the records in camera, the district court determined the records did not contain exculpatory information and denied the defendant's motion for discovery. Barret argues the district court erred in denying his motion for discovery. Barrett contends mental-health and counseling records always have impeachment value in a sexual abuse case and thus always contain exculpatory information subject to disclosure.

         In assessing the defendant's argument, we must acknowledge the defendant is at a disadvantage in challenging the district court's ruling and the State is at a disadvantage in defending the district court's ruling. Because the records were reviewed only by the district court, the parties are unaware of what information is contained therein. The defendant's argument on appeal is thus necessarily non-specific, and the State's rebuttal is also necessarily non-specific. Be that as it may, neither the federal nor state constitution requires defense counsel be provided access to the privileged records. See Pennsylvania v. Ritchie, 480 U.S. 39, 60 (1987) ("We find that Ritchie's interest . . . in ensuring a fair trial can be protected fully by requiring that the . . . files be submitted only to the trial court for in camera review. Although this rule denies Ritchie the benefits of an 'advocate's eye,' we note that the trial court's discretion is not unbounded. If a defendant is aware of specific information contained in the file (e.g., the medical report), he is free to request it directly from the court, and argue in favor of its materiality."); Thompson, 836 N.W.2d at 486 ("The Cashen majority made a policy choice to allow defense counsel to conduct the in camera review without stating that procedure is constitutionally required. We hold that it is not. Less than a year later, the Iowa legislature made a different policy choice-to substitute the trial judge for defense counsel for the in camera inspection. We decline to make new law under the Iowa due process clause to redraw the constitutional boundaries to strike down the legislature's policy choice."). We thus directly address the claim as presented in light of controlling authorities.

         We reject Barrett's contention that mental-health and counseling records always have exculpatory value in a sexual abuse case and are always subject to disclosure. The primary case upon which the defendant relies does not support his claim. In State v. Edouard, the supreme court held the district court erred in denying the defendant's request to conduct an in camera review of the privileged information. 854 N.W.2d 421, 427 (Iowa 2014), overruled on other grounds by Alcala v. Marriott Int'l, Inc., 880 N.W.2d 699, 707 (Iowa 2016). The supreme court remanded the case to the district court to determine whether the privileged records contained exculpatory information and whether a new trial was necessary. See id. at 442-43. In remanding the matter to the district court for in camera review, the supreme court implicitly rejected the conclusion that mental-health and counseling records always have impeachment value and are always subject to discovery. Otherwise, the supreme court would have ordered the records to be disclosed rather than remanding the case for in camera review to determine whether the records should be disclosed. ...


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