In our modern world full of anxiety and uncertainty, it has become more and more common for your average person to see a therapist to help them work through their issues and find a path to a more balanced, less stressful, life. However, many people, especially those with unsavory or criminal pasts, are afraid to use this important mental health resource for fear that the therapist could run off to the police or other authorities and expose their past or present misdeeds or ill-wishes on others. At the Law Offices of Lloyd Long, our knowledgeable Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys often get questions from clients who have seen or are considering seeing a therapist about when and if a therapist is ever able to break confidentiality and reveal what you have told them to the authorities. Below, we answer this question, and explain how we can challenge the use of testimony or other evidence from your therapist if the prosecution ever tries to use it against you.
Is It Illegal for a Therapist to Reveal Patient Information to Police in Pennsylvania?
The duty to protect/warn doctrine with regard to therapist and psychiatrists was first established in a case called Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California. In the case, a foreign exchange student at the University of California, Berkeley told his psychologist at University Health Services that he planned to kill another student named Tatiana Tarasoff. Later that year, the student carried out his threat and murdered Tarasoff, and her parents sued the Regents, partly under the theory that school psychologist had a duty to protect Tatiana from such an imminent threat by reporting the matter to the authorities.
The Supreme Court of California held that psychotherapists have a duty to protect any individual they reasonably believe to be at risk based on a patient’s confidential statements to them. In practicality, this means that they must do all that they can to prevent the violence from occurring, including warning the proper authorities like the police. However, in order for the duty to be triggered, the comments must be sufficiently specific, like saying that you plan to kill a particular person. Something general like “I hate that person” or “I want to kill someone I am so angry” will not typically trigger the requirement.
Since this decision, the duty has been adopted by nearly all other states, either statutorily or through the courts. In the 1998 decision Emerich v. Philadelphia Center for Human Development, Inc. and Albert Einstein Medical, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court referenced the Tarasoff decision in adopting its own duty to warn. However, the protections afforded by the ruling in this case are significantly weaker than the Tarasoff doctrine in that in provide for only a “duty to warn” rather than a “duty to protect,” meaning they only have to notify identifiable victims of the threat rather than go to the police or try some other way to stop the harm from occurring. While it is not mandatory, however, it is permissible for mental health professionals to notify the police as well as the potential victim if they believe that a specific threat has been against an identifiable individual.
How Can a Lawyer Help if My Therapist Tells Police Information That Leads to My Arrest in Pennsylvania?
If you are arrested in Philadelphia for rape, assault, or other crime in on the basis of information provide to the police by your therapist, the first thing you or a loved one should do is reach out to an experienced Philadelphia criminal defense attorney as soon after your arrest as possible. First and foremost, we are going to focus on getting you released from jail on little to no bail. Your bail hearing will occur within 72 hours of your arrest, and often sooner, which is why it is important that you reach out to us quickly so that we can be by your side for this important proceeding. Our experienced Philadelphia bail hearing attorneys at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long understand the factors the judge takes into consideration when deciding whether you can be released and how much bail to set, including the nature and severity of the charges against you, your ties to the local community, and your criminal history. We will argue that you are not a threat to the public or a flight risk and should be released on little to no bail.
After this, we can file a motion to exclude any evidence that we believed was acquired in violation of state laws on doctor-patient confidentiality from being used against you in the case. We can argue that the information you gave to the psychiatrist did not meet the definition of a specific, articulable threats against a particular person and thus cannot be charged as a crime like making threats or attempted assault. If this argument is unsuccessful, we will work with the prosecutor to try to come to some sort of agreement for the charges against you to be dismissed or downgraded to something less serious. If we are unable to reach such a deal or you do not wish to take a deal, our battle-tested trial lawyers at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long are ready and able to fight for your innocence in the courtroom.
If You Have Been Arrested Due to Your Therapist Revealing Information to the Police in Pennsylvania, Call Our Criminal Defense Lawyers Right Away
Only in cases where you have made a clear, specific threat about committing violence against an identifiable person is your therapist permitted to make a report to the police. Otherwise, whatever you say to them, even about past crimes you have committed, is typically protected under the therapist-client privilege doctrine. If you have been charged with a crime based on what you believe was an illegal violation of this privilege by your mental health professional, the skilled Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys at The Law Offices of Lloyd Long are here to help fight to get the charges dismissed. For a free consultation, call us today at (215) 302-0171.