Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. GEORGE F. RITCHIE (12/11/85)

decided: December 11, 1985.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLANT,
v.
GEORGE F. RITCHIE, APPELLEE



No. 69 W.D. Appeal Dkt. 1984. Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court of February 3, 1984, at No. 137 Pittsburgh 1981, vacating the Judgment of Sentence entered January 8, 1981, in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Criminal Division at No. CC7903887A.

COUNSEL

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.

Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Larsen, J., files a dissenting opinion in which Hutchinson, J., joins. Hutchinson, J., files a dissenting opinion.

Author: Mcdermott

[ 509 Pa. Page 359]

OPINION

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.*fn1 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,*fn2 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. Page 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.*fn3 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*fn4 file pertaining to the examination of the complainant. The Superior Court held that a statutory provision in the Child Protective Services (Law)*fn5 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 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. Page 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., 494 Pa. 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.*fn6 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.*fn7 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 counseling and help to victims of rape. The appellant there had asked for the right to inspect communications between the rape counselors and the victim. While we declined an extension of the common law to create an absolute privilege,*fn8

[ 509 Pa. Page 362]

    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."*fn9 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:

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 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.*fn10 In addition to providing procedures concerning the investigation

[ 509 Pa. Page 363]

    and reporting of abuse cases,*fn11 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.*fn12 Thus, this confidentiality provision, with all its enumerated exceptions, differs from the confidentiality and privilege provisions which the General Assembly has enacted concerning other counselors, such as licensed psychologists, 42 Pa.C.S. § 5944; or school personnel, 42 Pa.C.S. § 5945; or sexual assault counselors, 42 Pa.C.S. § 5945.1.

[ 509 Pa. Page 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 with the witnesses against him; [and] to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor."*fn13 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 adverse witness. Ohio v. Roberts, 448 U.S. 56, 100 S.Ct. 2531, 65 L.Ed.2d 597 (1980). Moreover, as the United States Supreme Court stated in Alford v. United States, 282 U.S. 687, 692, 51 S.Ct. 218, 219, 75 L.Ed. 624 (1931), and more recently echoed with approval in Smith v. Illinois, 390 U.S. 129, 88 S.Ct. 748, 19 L.Ed.2d 956 (1968):

It is the essence of a fair trial that reasonable latitude be given the cross-examiner, even though he is unable to state to the court what facts a reasonable cross-examination might develop. Prejudice ensues from a denial of the

[ 509 Pa. Page 365]

    opportunity to place the witness in his proper setting and put the weight of his testimony and his credibility to a test, without which the jury cannot fairly appraise them . . . . To say that prejudice can be established only by showing that the cross-examination, if pursued, would necessarily have brought out facts tending to discredit the testimony in chief, is to deny a substantial right and withdraw one of the safeguards essential to a fair trial.

Id. at 132, 88 S.Ct. at 750.

The United States Supreme Court has consistently emphasized the role of the truth-seeking process in our system of criminal justice. As it observed in Dennis v. United States, 384 U.S. 855, 870, 86 S.Ct. 1840, 1849, 16 L.Ed.2d 973 (1966), "disclosure, rather than suppression, of relevant materials ordinarily promotes the proper administration of criminal justice." Claims of confidentiality or privilege, whatever their basis, necessarily carry with them the possibility of infringing upon that truth-seeking process. As Mr. Chief Justice Burger, writing for a unanimous court, observed of such privileges, "[w]hatever their origins, these exceptions to the demand for every man's evidence are not lightly created nor expansively construed, for they are in derogation of the search for truth." United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683, 710, 94 S.Ct. 3090, 3108, 41 L.Ed.2d 1039 (1974).*fn14 In that case, the Court held that a claim of executive privilege, itself of constitutional dimension, may not prevail as against the need for disclosure there at issue.

The United States Supreme Court has also given close attention to state claims of privilege or confidentiality threatening to infringe upon a criminal defendant's federal constitutional rights. The Court has in such cases carefully safeguarded the Sixth Amendment rights of a criminal defendant to present relevant evidence on direct and cross-examination. In Smith v. Illinois, supra, the Court held that, ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.