US Supreme Court Will Decide the Role of Mandatory Reporters.

The U.S. Supreme Court added the case Ohio v. Clark (Case No. 13-1352) to its docket for this term.  The case is expected to be argued in January or February.  Here is why teachers, medical pharmacy no rx professionals and mandatory reporters should care…

Ohio v. Clark involves a man who is accused of abusing his girlfriend’s toddler son.  The boy came to Head Start one day with an eye that appeared blood shot and blood stained. Teachers questioned him about what happened and he said he fell. One teacher asked, “Who did this to you?” and the boy identified the defendant. The teachers made a report to law enforcement pursuant to mandatory reporting requirements. After further investigation, prosecutors charged the man with multiple felonies involving abuse to mutliple children.  During pre-trial matters the prosecution determined that the boy was not fit to testify because his story was inconsistent, and, well, let’s be honest, he was toddler. However, the prosecution called the teachers to testify about what the boy said.

Let me interject some evidence rules here.  Typically, a person can only testify in court about things they personally know.  A witness can talk about what she saw, smelled, heard, tasted, etc.  A witness cannot testify about what someone told them they saw, felt, heard, tasted.  This is called hearsay and is only allowed under certain circumstances (the person making the statement is dead, the person making the statement is a party to the case, and a few others.)  This rule is particularly important in criminal cases because the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a criminal accused the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him.

Back to Ohio v. Clark. At the criminal trial the teachers were permitted to testify about what the boy said. Clark was convicted and appealed. The Ohio appellate court reversed the conviction because using the teachers to provide the boy’s statements denied him his constitutional right to confront witnesses against him, specifically, the boy.  The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed, recognizing that the teachers were acting as law enforcement at the time they questioned the boy, but because the questioning was about past events, not an ongoing emergency, the boy’s statements should not have been admitted.

I’m skipping over a lot of legal jargon regarding criminal procedure and rules of evidence that can be found in the Ohio Supreme Court opinion. 2012-0215-Ohio.  The key concept that struck me with this case is the far-reaching implications for teachers, administrators, and other mandatory reporters.  Wisconsin’s mandatory reporting statute includes a requirement that reports of abuse shall remain confidential (with 17 exceptions including law enforcement).  Depending upon how the Supreme Court rules in the Ohio case, mandatory reporters may become regular witnesses in criminal cases.

Johanna R Kirk

Kirk Law Office, L.L.C.