Legal Memorandum: Exculpatory Evidence in NJ

Issue: Under New Jersey law, is there a requirement that medical records that may contain exculpatory evidence be produced?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: The Psychologist-patient Privilege; Exculpatory evidence; Medical records
Jurisdiction: New Jersey
Cited Cases: 696 A.2d 556; 213 N.J. Super. 255; 122 N.J. 579; 517 A.2d 142; 270 N.J. Super. 429; 704 A.2d 24; 150 N.J. 276; 530 A.2d 80; 696 A.2d 565; 637 A.2d 532
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 09/01/2000

This principal has a critical—and straightforward—corollary: when a request for psychologist’s records is made in a criminal case, “the psychologist-patient privilege may be required to yield to the defendant’s right to exculpatory evidence.”  Kinsella v. Kinsella, 150 N.J. 276, 303, 696 A.2d 556, 570 (1997) (citing State v. McBride, 213 N.J. Super. 255, 517 A.2d 142 (App. Div. 1986)).  The privilege also yields to a defendant’s right to impeach a critical witness.  Id. at 303-04, 696 A.2d at 570 (citing State v. L.J.P., 270 N.J. Super. 429, 436-43, 637 A.2d 532, 535-38 (App. Div. 1994)).     

The Kinsella court characterizes L.J.P. and McBride as compelling disclosure in situations involving a defendant’s right to confront his or her accuser.  See id. at 307, 696 A.2d at 572. Kinsella was a divorce case in which the defendant-wife counterclaimed for tort damages arising from her husband’s physical and mental abuse.  The couple had been in marriage counseling, and the husband was seeing a therapist on his own.  Mrs. Kinsella sought disclosure of both their joint counseling records and her husband’s records.  The Supreme Court explored the scope and limits of the psychologist-patient privilege and concluded that both sets of records were privileged.  Id. at 307-14, 696 A.2d at 572-74.  It first noted that because full disclosure of the facts will best lead to the truth, statutory privileges are narrowly construed in favor of […]

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