Bryant’s alleged victim’s medical records remain private
Kobe Bryant’s alleged victim’s medical records will not be aired in public, a judge ruled Wednesday.
District Judge Terry Ruckriegle said he was unconvinced the 19- year-old woman Bryant allegedly raped June 30, “intended, by her actions or words, to waive her physician-patient privilege.”
Bryant’s defense attorneys, Pamela Mackey and Harold Haddon, argued that information in the medical records spoke to the alleged victim’s credibility. They had also argued that since the woman discussed her medical treatment with other people, she had waived her right to keep it confidential.
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert argued that her medical records have nothing to do with whether or not she agreed to have sex with Bryant in his hotel suite. In his ruling, Ruckriegle agreed.
Ruckriegle’s order denies Bryant’s attorneys access to medical records from the woman’s doctor, the Northern Colorado Medical Center, Student Health Services for the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, and Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs. Ruckriegle also ordered both the defense and the prosecution to destroy any copies of Valley View medical records from a May 2003 incident that had been provided inadvertently. Both sides are to have access only to the alleged victim’s July 1 rape exam.
“The District Attorney’s office is pleased with the judge’s ruling regarding this very important issue,” said district attorney’s office spokeswoman Krista Flannigan.
Ruckriegle’s ruling effectively closes the book on whether the alleged victim’s medical records will be an issue during the trial. Local attorney Dave Lugert, a former federal and state prosecutor, called Wednesday’s ruling a victory for the alleged victim.
“Ruckriegle’s ruling demonstrates that the victim’s medical and psychological records need not be turned over,” said Lugert. “The judge’s finding is that the defense presented no evidence that the alleged victim’s psychological or medical condition at the time of the assault, or afterward during the outcry period, inhibited her ability to understand what was happening to her and to recollect the circumstances accurately.”
Ruckriegle’s ruling may signal a shift in the wind for Bryant’s defense team, said Lugert.
“The defense will no longer be able to paint a tar brush over the alleged victim’s medical or psychological records now or before the jury at trial,” said Lugert. “I see it as a victory for the alleged victim in this case, for sexual assault victims everywhere, and for law enforcement officers in this case. They will not have to face any challenges to the victim’s medical or psychological condition at trial, and her testimony at trial will stand as presented.”
It also creates an avenue of appeal if Bryant loses.
“Obviously this creates a significant appeal issue for the defense if Bryant is convicted and sent to prison,” said Lugert.
Not a surprise
Legal experts were not surprised by Ruckriegle’s ruling. It’s almost unheard of for the privilege of a confidential physician-patient relationship to be waived involuntarily, said local attorney Rohn Robbins.
“Some privileges are considered sacrosanct and are guarded zealously under the law. Among them are physician-patient, priest-penitent, attorney-client and husband-wife,” said Robbins.
State law protects confidentiality and was upheld by a 2002 Colorado Supreme Court ruling. Ruckriegle’s ruling contained two main findings, Robbins said.
First, there is a privilege. Second, Bryant’s alleged victim did not waive it.
Ruckriegle ruled that even though Bryant’s alleged victim had discussed her medical conditions and treatment during informal talks with friends and relatives, he said she did not intend to waive confidentiality.
“The victim never revealed the specific nature of her medical treatment, the substance of her conversations with the medical providers nor other confidential details of her condition and medical treatment, including diagnosis,” wrote Ruckriegle.
In his ruling, Ruckriegle also pushed aside defense arguments that because Bryant’s alleged victim was interviewed after the alleged assault by Eagle County sheriff’s Detective Doug Winters, she had violated her privilege to confidentiality.
While the alleged victim’s medical records cannot be used in Bryant’s defense, his attorneys have poured some of the information into the jury pool through some of their motions. That, said Robbins, might prove useful.
“It could be helpful to the defense team to have a more broad understanding of his accuser,” Robbins said.
Defense attorneys have argued in motions that the woman’s medical records could call her credibility into question and prove she concocted a “scheme” to falsely accuse Bryant of raping her – all to get the attention of her former boyfriend. Those medical records deal, at least in part, with two overdoses, one in February 2003 and another in May 2003.
Issues still remain
Although Bryant’s attorneys did not win this ruling, they have raised other issues that still must be decided during the motions phase of the case. Among them are the alleged victim’s sexual history and whether law enforcement properly collected the physical evidence.
First, the defense raised rape shield questions, asking that during the trial the alleged victim’s sexual activity in the days before and after the incident with Bryant be included during testimony. Prosecutors continue to argue that it should not be admitted as evidence or play any part in the trial.
Second, Bryant’s defense attorneys argue that the physical evidence Bryant provided sheriff’s investigators was not properly collected. They argue that Bryant was not properly advised of his rights while he was being interviewed. Sheriff’s investigators argue that they didn’t have to advise Bryant of his rights because he was not under arrest.
Bryant, 25, faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation if convicted of felony sexual assault. Bryant has said he had consensual sex with the woman last summer at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera.
Bryant will be back in court Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week as his case continues to work its way through the motions phase.