Legal Question in Criminal Law in California

Can a patient be charged with a crime confessed to a doctor in the context of medical discussion?

Asked on 9/20/13, 12:32 pm

2 Answers from Attorneys

Edward Hoffman Law Offices of Edward A. Hoffman

What matters isn't whether you can be charged. If the authorities think you did it, they can charge you. What you really want to know is whether your statement to the doctor can be used as evidence against you. The answer is probably yes, but it depends on the circumstances.

A patient's conversations with his doctor about his health are privileged. But statements about other matters generally are not. If you're there for a checkup and offhandedly tell him you committed a burglary, that's not privileged. But if he asks you what drugs you've taken recently and your list includes cocaine, that probably is.

Even if your statement was privileged to begin with, it's possible that you subsequently waived that privilege. If so, the statement can be used against you.

Note also that the privilege only applies to conversations about your health with a doctor who is treating you or whom you are thinking about having treat you. If you strike up a casual conversation with a doctor you only know socially and start talking about, say, bacteriology or the health-care system, that conversation would not be privileged even though it would be a "medical discussion" -- which is what you asked about.

Finally, even if your statement to the doctor can't be used against you, there may be other evidence which can. Making a privileged statement to a doctor does not insulate you from being charged or from being tried and convicted on other evidence.

Good luck.

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Answered on 9/20/13, 2:04 pm

Anthony Roach Law Office of Anthony A. Roach

It depends on the underlying facts whether or not the physician can disclose information given to him by the patient. The general rules are set out in California Evidence Code section 990 to 1007. There are also case decisions, such as the case of Tarasoff v. Regents of University of California (1976) 17 Cal.3d 425, in which the California Supreme Court held that physicians may have a duty to warn when a patient presents a future threat to others.

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Answered on 9/21/13, 12:01 pm

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