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State v. Robinson

July 20, 2006

STATE OF MINNESOTA, CONCURRING, PAGE, J. RESPONDENT,
v.
ANDRE ROBINSON, APPELLANT.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. An extra-judicial statement by a victim of domestic assault to medical personnel identifying the abuser is not admissible under the medical diagnosis and treatment exception to the hearsay rule, Minn. R. Evid. 803(4), absent a showing that the identity of the abuser is reasonably pertinent to the medical diagnosis and treatment of the victim.

2. An extra-judicial statement by a victim that accuses a person of a crime, where the identity of the offender was well-known to the victim, does not qualify as a non-hearsay statement of identification under Minn. R. Evid. 801(d)(1)(C).

3. Error in admitting extra-judicial statements was harmless because the statements were admissible under the residual hearsay exception, Minn. R. Evid. 803(24).

Affirmed.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hanson, Justice

Concurring, Anderson, Russell A., C.J., and Meyer, J.

Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.

OPINION

Appellant Andre Robinson appeals from his conviction of third-degree assault against F.T., the mother of his children. At trial F.T. testified that Robinson caused her injuries but did so accidentally, which was contrary to what she initially told two hospital nurses. Robinson argues that the district court erred in allowing the substantive admission of F.T.'s statements to the nurses under the medical diagnosis and treatment hearsay exception, Minn. R. Evid. 803(4). The court of appeals agreed, but concluded that the statements were admissible under the residual hearsay exception, Minn. R. Evid. 803(24), and as non-hearsay statements of identification under Minn. R. Evid. 801(d)(1)(C). State v. Robinson, 699 N.W.2d 790, 795-99 (Minn. App. 2005). We affirm the court of appeals on the residual hearsay exception.

At around 8:55 a.m. on April 12, 2003, F.T. checked into Abbott Northwestern Hospital for treatment of several injuries, the most serious of which was swelling of her left eye. She told one of the treating nurses that the father of her children and former boyfriend, Robinson, hit her in the eye with an open hand. F.T. was diagnosed with a blowout fracture of her eye orbit and was referred to an ophthalmologist for follow-up treatment. About 10 days after the incident F.T. went to the Domestic Abuse Service Center for information about obtaining an order for protection against Robinson. The same day, F.T. also met with a police officer and gave a taped statement detailing the assault by Robinson. She also signed a medical release form that said "THIS INFORMATION IS TO BE RELEASED FOR THE PURPOSE OF * * * Police Investigation."

F.T. did not seek an order for protection and began living with Robinson again. About a month after the incident F.T. learned that Robinson was being charged and she called the prosecutor with a new version of how her eye orbit fracture occurred. F.T. acknowledged that she and Robinson had argued and that at one point she had gone into the bathroom. But she said that her eye was injured by accident when Robinson opened the bathroom door and the door struck her eye. F.T. also sent a notarized letter to the public defender's office detailing this account.

Robinson was charged with third-degree assault, Minn. Stat. § 609.223, subd. 1 (2004), and interference with an emergency call, Minn. Stat. § 609.78, subd. 2 (2004). At a pretrial hearing, the state provided the court with copies of six documents: (1) the nurses' assessment form completed by nurse J.W.; (2) the nurses' assessment form completed by nurse A.S.; (3) the police report of an interview with F.T. on April 12, 2003; (4) the transcript of the police statement taken from F.T. on April 22, 2003; (5) a memorandum from an investigator in the Hennepin County Attorney's Office summarizing a telephone call from F.T. on June 26, 2003; and (6) a letter from F.T. to the Office of the Public Defender dated August 25, 2003. After extensive argument, the court ruled that F.T.'s statements to police were inadmissible as hearsay and the court reserved ruling on the memorandum of the telephone call from F.T. and F.T.'s letter to the public defender. But the court determined that F.T.'s statements to the nurses were admissible substantively under the medical diagnosis hearsay exception, Minn. R. Evid. 803(4). The ruling contemplated that the nurses would be permitted to use the assessment forms to refresh their recollections, but the forms would not be admitted as exhibits. The court rejected the state's arguments that the statements to the nurses were also admissible as non-hearsay statements of identification, Minn. R. Evid. 803(4), and under the residual hearsay exception, Minn. R. Evid. 803(24).

At trial the state first introduced testimony from the staff nurse, J.W. J.W. testified that as a staff nurse she is responsible for interviewing patients and conducting a preliminary physical assessment. She testified that a necessary component of this assessment is determining how the injury occurred. J.W. documented her actions and findings on a one-page form titled "Emergency Department Nursing Assessment and Treatment."

J.W. used the assessment form to refresh her memory because she had no independent recollection of the incident. She said that F.T.'s left eyelid was swollen and she was holding it shut with an ice pack. J.W. asked F.T. what happened and F.T. replied, "[M]y kids' dad came over drunk; got to argue with me and then open hand slapped me really hard on the face." J.W. asked if this had ever happened before. F.T. responded that she "never had been assaulted before." J.W. also testified that she wrote down: "[P]atient says he wouldn't let me out. He fell asleep and I left with the kids."

After completing the assessment form, J.W. notified the on-duty nurse practitioner, A.S. A.S. testified that a nurse practitioner has more training than a staff nurse and therefore is allowed to diagnose and treat cases, like F.T.'s, that are less complex. A.S. documented her examination of F.T. on a more detailed form titled "ED/MD Evaluation and Treatment." A.S. refreshed her memory with this form because she also had no independent recollection of the incident.

A.S. testified that she observed swelling over F.T.'s left eye, an abrasion on her nose next to her eye, a scratch on her eyeball, and a chipped tooth. A.S. asked F.T. why she came to the hospital and F.T. told her that she had been assaulted. When asked how she was assaulted, F.T. said she had been slapped in the face. Although A.S.'s assessment form states the identity of F.T.'s abuser as her "boyfriend," A.S. testified that F.T. did not say who slapped her.

A.S. ordered a CT scan and the neuroradiologist told her that F.T. had a blowout fracture of the left orbit, the bone around the eye. A.S. treated the eye scratch with eye drops and referred F.T. to an ophthalmologist to treat the fracture. There is no indication that the hospital staff conducted any other follow-up treatment.

After presenting the testimony of the two nurses, the state called F.T. to testify. She stated that she was sleeping early in the morning on April 12, 2003, when Robinson started knocking loudly on her door. She let him in and they began arguing about a woman Robinson had been with. She eventually went into the bathroom and they began arguing through the closed door. After the argument deescalated, F.T. peeked out the door to see if Robinson was still there and Robinson pushed the door open, causing it to hit her. She described it as an accident. F.T. said they went to sleep and when she woke up a few hours later her eye still hurt so she drove herself and their two kids to the hospital.

F.T. admitted that she had made the accusatory statements to the nurses, but said she lied because she was mad at Robinson for being out with another woman and wanted to get him in trouble. She also admitted that she went to the Domestic Abuse Service Center 10 days later to get information on an order for protection against Robinson, but said she did not actually obtain an order. She explained that she needed time away from him and wanted him to think that he had to stay away. As for the medical release form, F.T. said she signed a form but thought it was authorizing the release of her medical information to her doctor or insurance company.

To discredit F.T.'s new version of how she was injured, the state presented testimony from the neuroradiologist who treated her. He testified that F.T.'s fracture was the result of pressure being applied to her eyeball, which created force in the socket that caused two thin bones in her orbit walls to break. He testified that this type of injury can only be caused by a rounded object, like a ball, fist or vehicle dashboard. He admitted that he has never personally treated an orbit fracture that he knew was caused by an open hand, but testified that it is theoretically possible and has been documented in scholarly articles. He also testified that it was not possible for the edge of a door to have caused F.T.'s injury.

The jury found Robinson guilty of third-degree assault. He appealed his conviction, claiming, among other things, that the district court erroneously admitted F.T.'s two statements to the nurses. Robinson, 699 N.W.2d at 792-93. The court of appeals affirmed, agreeing that the statements were admissible but on different grounds. Id. at 799. The court held the statements were not admissible under the medical diagnosis exception but were admissible under both ...


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