The ruling reversed a decision of a district judge, who allowed court review of “notes, memoranda, records, reports” or any other communication with counselors at HOPE Coalition, a Red Wing organization that works with domestic violence and sexual assault victims.
Leading the charge in the case were Rana Alexander, executive director at Standpoint, which provides legal advocacy for domestic violence and sexual assault victims, and Katie Barrett Wiik, a partner at Saul Ewing LLP, who worked on the case pro bono.
A 1982 law passed by the Minnesota Legislature protected the communication between sexual assault counselors and victims unless the victim consents. However, courts have ruled in favor of defendants through the years who subpoena records from sexual assault counseling organizations, allowing the court to review the records privately and determine whether information in the records should be allowed in trial.
In reversing the lower court’s decision in the HOPE Coalition case, Supreme Court Associate Justice Natalie Hudson stated the law “creates a privilege for sexual assault counselors that cannot be pierced in a criminal proceeding without the victim’s consent.”
“It’s very frustrating for crime victims to be told by society they should seek therapy if they need to, and then to find out that records from their therapy can end up in a criminal case just because they were a crime victim,” Alexander said. “The victims I talk to say it feels unfair, and they question why they reported. I’m excited that this case can be taken to continue to protect even broader categories of records for crime victims.”
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