518 N.W.2d 784 (Iowa 1994), 92-2045, State v. Deases

Docket Nº:92-2045.
Citation:518 N.W.2d 784
Party Name:STATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. Edward Cassimiro DEASES, Appellant.
Case Date:June 22, 1994
Court:Supreme Court of Iowa

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518 N.W.2d 784 (Iowa 1994)

STATE of Iowa, Appellee,


Edward Cassimiro DEASES, Appellant.

No. 92-2045.

Supreme Court of Iowa.

June 22, 1994

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Linda Del Gallo, State Appellate Defender, and B. John Burns, Asst. State Appellate Defender, for appellant.

Bonnie J. Campbell, Atty. Gen. and Thomas S. Tauber and Robert Glaser, Asst. Attys. Gen., for appellee.

Considered by McGIVERIN, C.J., and LARSON, CARTER, SNELL, and TERNUS, JJ.

TERNUS, Justice.

Defendant Edward Cassimiro Deases was convicted after a jury trial of first-degree murder in violation of Iowa Code section 707.2 (1993). Deases now appeals, arguing that the district court erred in admitting the testimony of three of the State's witnesses. First, Deases argues the court erred in admitting the testimony of a nurse because this evidence was protected by the professional communications privilege. Second, he contends the testimony of a correctional officer should not have been admitted because the statements of Deases to which the officer testified were obtained in violation of Deases' Fifth Amendment rights. Third, Deases asserts the court erred in admitting the testimony of a rebuttal witness because the testimony was hearsay. Deases' last assignment of error is the trial court's failure to give Deases' requested instruction on impeachment. We agree that the testimony challenged by Deases was improperly admitted. Consequently, we reverse.

  1. Background Facts and Proceedings.

At the time of the offense involved in this case, Deases was an inmate of the Fort Madison Penitentiary. He and another inmate, Joseph Perea, fought in the penitentiary cafeteria. The fight ended when Deases fatally stabbed Perea with a shank (a knife-like instrument).

Deases was charged with first-degree murder. He claimed self-defense. There was conflicting evidence about who initiated the fight. There was also conflicting evidence concerning whether it was Deases or Perea who brought the shank into the cafeteria. The jury found Deases guilty and the court sentenced him to life imprisonment. We will discuss additional facts as necessary.

II. Professional Communications Privilege.

During the fight with Perea, Deases was cut on the palm of his hand. He was taken to the prison health care unit for treatment. Nurse Adella Hull asked Deases where he got the shank. Deases told her he made it in

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the welding shop. Three correctional officers and the treating physician were present during Nurse Hull's conversation with Deases.

The trial court overruled Deases' motion to suppress the nurse's testimony. Deases had contended that this testimony should not be admitted because his statements to the nurse were protected by the professional communications privilege. See Iowa Code § 622.10 (1993). The district court concluded that Deases' statements were not privileged because they were made in the presence of prison guards. We review the trial court's interpretation of section 622.10 for errors of law. State v. Jones, 490 N.W.2d 787, 789 (Iowa 1992).

Iowa Code section 622.10 prohibits a physician's assistant from disclosing, in testimony, any confidential communication obtained because of the person's employment and necessary to enable the person to discharge the functions of the person's office. The physician-patient privilege is intended to promote free and full communication between a patient and his doctor so that the doctor will have the information necessary to competently diagnose and treat the patient. State v. Bedel, 193 N.W.2d 121, 124 (Iowa 1971). We construe this statute liberally to carry out its manifest purpose. State v. Tornquist, 254 Iowa 1135, 1154, 120 N.W.2d 483, 494 (1963).

The essential elements of the professional communications privilege in this case are: (1) the existence of a professional relationship between the physician's assistant and the patient; (2) the information is acquired during this relationship; and (3) the information is necessary to enable the assistant to treat the patient skillfully. Snethen v. State, 308 N.W.2d 11, 14 (Iowa 1981). However, even when these elements are present, the privilege may be lost if the patient makes statements in the presence of a third person. Tornquist, 254 Iowa at 1155, 120 N.W.2d at 495.

The State concedes that a professional relationship existed between Deases and Nurse Hull and that any information she learned from him was acquired during this relationship. However, the State argues that Deases' statement regarding where the shank came from was not privileged because it was not information necessary for Deases' treatment. We disagree.

Nurse Hull testified that she asked Deases where he got the shank so that she could decide whether to give him a tetanus shot. Hull stated it was important in treating Deases to find out whether there were shavings in his hand. She believed that the source of the shank had a bearing on whether shavings were likely to be found in Deases' cut. Based on this evidence, we conclude Deases' communications to the nurse regarding the shank were necessary to enable her to treat him skillfully.

The State also argues that Deases lost any privilege he might otherwise have had because his statements were made in the presence of third persons, the three correctional officers. Deases argues that the correctional officers were assistants to the doctor and nurse because they were there to protect the medical personnel. We have not previously considered this precise argument.

In the Tornquist case, we held that the testimony of a hospital employee concerning statements she heard the defendant make to his treating physician was admissible. Our decision was based on the lack of evidence that the hospital employee was present to assist the doctor. Tornquist, 254 Iowa at 1155, 120 N.W.2d at 495.

In State v. Flaucher, 223 N.W.2d 239, 241 (Iowa 1974), we stated in dicta that statements made by a defendant to his doctor in the presence of police officers were not privileged. However, the defendant in that case apparently did not argue that the officers' presence was necessary for the defendant to obtain treatment.

Finally, in State v. Craney, 347 N.W.2d 668 (Iowa 1984), we considered the admissibility of a police officer's testimony concerning a statement he heard the defendant make to the defendant's attorney. We held that the admission of this testimony did not violate the attorney-client privilege because the communication made by the defendant to his

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attorney was not intended to be confidential. Craney...

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