Com. v. Ritchie

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtBefore NIX; McDERMOTT; LARSEN, J., files a dissenting opinion in which HUTCHINSON; HUTCHINSON; LARSEN; Cavanaugh; HUTCHINSON; HUTCHINSON
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant, v. George F. RITCHIE, Appellee. 69 W.D. 1984.
Decision Date11 December 1985

Page 148

502 A.2d 148
509 Pa. 357
COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellant,
v.
George F. RITCHIE, Appellee.
69 W.D. 1984.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Argued March 4, 1985.
Decided Dec. 11, 1985.

[509 Pa. 359]

Page 149

Robert E. Colville, Dist. Atty., Robert L. Eberhardt, Deputy Dist. Atty., Edward Marcus Clark, Asst. Dist. Atty., Pittsburgh, for appellant.

John H. Corbett, Jr., Office of the Public Defender, Pittsburgh, for appellee.

Before NIX, C.J., and LARSEN, FLAHERTY, McDERMOTT, HUTCHINSON, ZAPPALA and PAPADAKOS, JJ.

OPINION

McDERMOTT, Justice.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania appeals, by allowance, the order of the Superior Court vacating judgment of sentence and remanding for further proceedings. We affirm and order the case remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Appellee, George F. Ritchie, stood jury trial in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, and was convicted of rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, incest and corruption of minors. 1 The charges arose in connection with incidents allegedly involving sexual contacts between appellee and his minor daughter over a period of years, including one particular incident on June 11, 1979. Appellee's daughter was twelve years old at that time.

The circumstances giving rise to the instant appeal began in 1978, when appellee's counsel, in the course of preparing the defense, served a subpoena upon Child Welfare Services (CWS) seeking records pertaining to the complainant, 2 which records CWS refused to produce on the basis of the alleged confidentiality of the records. At a pretrial conference held in chambers before the trial court, counsel for appellee argued a motion for sanctions and sought access to the records in order to gain information which might impeach[509 Pa. 360] or discredit the complainant, or which might reveal potential witnesses. Moreover, defense counsel sought particular information concerning a medical examination of the victim which, according to his information, occurred on September 6, 1978, in conjunction with a CWS investigation. The trial court accepted the assertion of a CWS representative that such information was not in the file. 3 The court then issued an order to the following effect:

And now, October 23, 1979, after hearing in chambers, the court having viewed the records of the Child Welfare Services, the Court finds that no medical records are being held by the Child Welfare Services that would be of benefit to the defendant in this case. Counsel for the Commonwealth, and the defendant, and a representative of the Child Welfare Services being present at the hearing.

Hearing Transcript (H.T.) October 23, 1979, at 15. Appellee's counsel immediately objected to that order.

On appeal, the Superior Court rejected appellee's claims concerning the sufficiency and admissibility of certain evidence, but agreed with his contention that the trial court erred in refusing to grant appellee access to the Child Welfare Services 4 file pertaining to the examination of the complainant. The Superior Court held that a statutory provision in the Child Protective Services (Law) 5 regarding confidentiality of the records must not be permitted to infringe upon appellee's Sixth Amendment rights. Commonwealth v. Ritchie, 324 Pa.Super. 557, 472 A.2d 220 (1984). Nonetheless, that court refused to direct that

Page 150

the records be made available to appellee. Instead, relying by analogy on the decision of this Court in Matter of Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, (Matter of Pittsburgh), 494 Pa. 15, 428 A.2d 126 (1981), the Superior Court fashioned a remedy whereby the trial court would, after an in camera [509 Pa. 361] inspection of the file, make available to appellee only those parts of the file which it determined to constitute verbatim statements (or the equivalent) by the complainant regarding abuse. Matter of Pittsburgh, id. at 28, 428 A.2d at 132. That court further directed that counsel be permitted access to the entire record reviewed in camera by the trial court, in order to argue relevance. 6 It is the appropriateness of this remedy which lies at the heart of this appeal.

In their arguments both parties challenge the Superior Court's disposition. The Commonwealth argues that the records are presumptively confidential under the relevant statute. 7 Further, the Commonwealth argues that, if appellee's Sixth Amendment rights require that he be given access to statements contained in the CWS files, then that access should be restricted solely to such statements, and appellee's counsel should not be permitted access to the entire file to argue relevance. Appellee, on the other hand, argues that statements contained in the file constitute the minimal discovery to which he is entitled, and that, in fact, his Sixth Amendment rights require that he gain access to the entire file so that determinations concerning what information might be useful to the defense may properly be made by an advocate. For the reasons outlined below, we find persuasive appellee's arguments, and hold that the trial court erred in refusing to allow the defense access to the CWS files.

As indicated above, the Superior Court found guidance in the decision of this Court in Matter of Pittsburgh. In that case, we were asked to fashion a rule of confidentiality to protect information and materials in the files of the Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR), a center providing counselling and help to victims of rape. The appellant there had asked for the right to inspect communications between the rape counsellors and the victim. While we declined an extension of the common law to create an absolute privilege, 8[509 Pa. 362] 8 we fashioned an in camera proceeding wherein defense counsel were permitted an inspection of "only those statements of the complainant contained in the file which bear on the facts of the alleged offense." 9 In the instant case, we are asked for more; we are asked for a review and inspection by counsel of all materials in the possession of CWS, that their relevancy might be determined and their uses in testing credibility ascertained. The sticking place is that the appellant is armed with a statute providing for confidentiality of the files of a child; and while they do not seek an absolute privilege under the statute, they take umbrage that the Superior Court directed:

... counsel should be permitted access to this record in order to argue the relevance of the material in accordance with this decision. Counsel, of course, are permitted access to this record for this purpose only and are otherwise bound by the confidential nature of the material in the record.

Ritchie, supra, 324 Pa.Super. at 568, 472 A.2d at 226.

In ascertaining the intent of the General Assembly we are guided by principles of statutory construction, including that presumption that "[e]very statute shall be construed, if possible, to give effect to all its

Page 151

provisions." 1 Pa.C.S. § 1921(a). Moreover, it may be presumed "[t]hat the General Assembly does not intend to violate the Constitution of the United States or of this Commonwealth." 1 Pa.C.S. § 1922(3). Bearing these principles in mind, we turn to an analysis of the statute.

The Child Protective Services Law was enacted to identify and protect children suffering from abuse and to provide rehabilitative services to such children and their families. 10 In addition to providing procedures concerning the investigation[509 Pa. 363] and reporting of abuse cases, 11 the Law has a section providing for the confidentiality of such records, 11 P.S. § 2215(a). The confidentiality provision provides that reports made pursuant to the Law shall be confidential, but shall be made available to certain enumerated classes of officials and groups. 11 P.S. § 2215(a). Among those to whom such reports may be made available are included, notably, courts of competent jurisdiction pursuant to court order, § 2215(a)(5). In addition, access must also be granted to guardians ad litem, officials of the Department of Public Welfare, and others. 12 Thus, this confidentiality provision, with all its enumerated exceptions, differs from the confidentiality and privilege provisions which the General Assembly has enacted concerning other counsellors, such as licensed psychologists, 42 Pa.C.S. § 5944; or school personnel, 42 Pa.C.S. § 5945; or sexual assault counsellors, 42 Pa.C.S. § 5945.1.

[509 Pa. 364] The legislative purpose herein was clearly to create an agency, not only to investigate allegations of child abuse, but to provide care, shelter, and erase where possible the cruel stains upon their innocence. To accomplish this the statute provides for confidentiality and, as well, for exceptions to the confidentiality imposed; all are avenues to help. As noted, one of the exceptions is to a court of competent jurisdiction, to which, by court order, all materials in the files of the child are necessarily accessible.

There is, of course, a difference between the types of protection that can be afforded a victim and one accused. The difference in all such considerations is the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. There can be no absolute protections that cancel the fundamental mandates of that Amendment; all that can be accomplished is a careful balance between them, the counters always in favor of the Amendment.

The Sixth Amendment provides that an accused, "[i]n all criminal prosecutions ... shall enjoy the right ... to be confronted

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with the witnesses against him; [and] to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor." 13 The extent to which a criminal defendant can cross-examine the witnesses testifying against him is controlled by the confrontation clause of the Amendment. The purpose of that clause is to provide an accused with an effective means of challenging the evidence against him by testing the recollection and probing the conscience of an...

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33 practice notes
  • State v. Lynch, No. 2011AP2680–CR.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • July 13, 2016
    ...his accusers or the substance of the accusation, except when the accuser is shielded by legislative enactment.Commonwealth v. Ritchie, 509 Pa. 357, 502 A.2d 148, 152–53 (1985), aff'd in part, rev'd in part, 480 U.S. 39, 107 S.Ct. 989, 94 L.Ed.2d 40 (1987).¶ 158 Four members of the Ritchie C......
  • State v. Neiderbach, No. 11-1082
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • August 23, 2013
    ...statutes dealing with counseling privileges. See, e.g., People v. Stanaway, 521 N.W.2d 557, 574-75 (Mich. 1994); Commonwealth v. Ritchie, 502 A.2d 148, 151-54 (Pa. 1985), rev'd on other grounds by Ritchie, 480 U.S. at 60-61, 107 S. Ct. at 1003, 94 L. Ed. 2d at 59-60. A corollary to the doct......
  • Pennsylvania v. Ritchie, No. 85-1347
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 24, 1987
    ...to review the entire file for any useful evidence. Held: The judgment is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case is remanded. 509 Pa. 357, 502 A.2d 148 (1985), affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. Justice POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court as to Parts I, II, ......
  • Com. v. Herrick
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • April 25, 1995
    ...records may not override a defendant's right to effectively confront and cross-examine the witness against him." Commonwealth v. Ritchie, 509 Pa. 357, 367, 502 A.2d 148, 153 (1985). Accordingly, the Supreme Court remanded the case, instructing that defendant be allowed access to CWS files. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
32 cases
  • State v. Lynch, No. 2011AP2680–CR.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • July 13, 2016
    ...his accusers or the substance of the accusation, except when the accuser is shielded by legislative enactment.Commonwealth v. Ritchie, 509 Pa. 357, 502 A.2d 148, 152–53 (1985), aff'd in part, rev'd in part, 480 U.S. 39, 107 S.Ct. 989, 94 L.Ed.2d 40 (1987).¶ 158 Four members of the Ritchie C......
  • State v. Neiderbach, No. 11-1082
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • August 23, 2013
    ...statutes dealing with counseling privileges. See, e.g., People v. Stanaway, 521 N.W.2d 557, 574-75 (Mich. 1994); Commonwealth v. Ritchie, 502 A.2d 148, 151-54 (Pa. 1985), rev'd on other grounds by Ritchie, 480 U.S. at 60-61, 107 S. Ct. at 1003, 94 L. Ed. 2d at 59-60. A corollary to the doct......
  • Pennsylvania v. Ritchie, No. 85-1347
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 24, 1987
    ...to review the entire file for any useful evidence. Held: The judgment is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case is remanded. 509 Pa. 357, 502 A.2d 148 (1985), affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. Justice POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court as to Parts I, II, ......
  • Com. v. Herrick
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Pennsylvania
    • April 25, 1995
    ...records may not override a defendant's right to effectively confront and cross-examine the witness against him." Commonwealth v. Ritchie, 509 Pa. 357, 367, 502 A.2d 148, 153 (1985). Accordingly, the Supreme Court remanded the case, instructing that defendant be allowed access to CWS files. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
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