Washington Law Review


With the U.S. Supreme Court's 1996 decision in Jaffee v. Redmond, all U.S. jurisdictions have now adopted some form of evidentiary privilege for confidential statements by patients to psychotherapists for the purpose of seeking treatment. The majority of states, following the decision of the Supreme Court of California in Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of Calfornia, have also adopted some form of duty by psychotherapists to breach confidentiality and warn potential victims against foreseeable violence by their patients. Largely unresolved is whether there should be a dangerous patient exception to the evidentiary privilege parallel to the Tarasoff exception to confidentiality. This Article argues that exception to the evidentiary privilege should be evaluated separately from the exception to confidentiality. Whether or not a Tarasoff duty to warn existed at an earlier time, exception to the evidentiary privilege should be made only where psychotherapists' testimony is necessary to prevent future harm to patients or identified potential victims. Applying this standard, the dangerous patient exception generally would not apply in criminal actions against patients, but would apply only in proceedings for the purpose of protecting patients or third parties, such as restraining order hearings or proceedings to hospitalize patients.

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