Minnesota Court Rules Child’s Statements to Nurse “Testimonial”

State of Minnesota v. Krasky (2006)

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has reversed a child abuse conviction because the child’s statements to a nurse practitioner were improperly admitted at trial. The court held that the statements were testimonial. Thus admission of them—in the absence of the child’s testimony at trial—violated the defendant’s right to confront witnesses against him. The case is State of Minnesota v. Krasky, 721 N.W. 2d 916 (2006).

Six-year-old T.L.K.’s foster mother reported that T.L.K. had engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior with her younger sister and had described conduct by her father which suggested he had molested both girls. Her father’s parental rights had already been terminated.

A detective and a child protection worker took T.L.K. to the Midwest Children’s Resource Center to be interviewed by a nurse practitioner. The child protection worker watched the interview from another room. A videotape of the interview was given to the detective, and charges soon followed.

The trial court ruled the girl’s statements to the nurse testimonial, and the State took an interlocutory appeal of that decision. The court of appeals reversed. The Minnesota Supreme Court then remanded the case to the court of appeals to reconsider its decision in light of two Minnesota Supreme Court cases. Before the court of appeals could do so, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Davis v. Washington, 126 S.Ct. 2266 (2006). The court of appeals found Davis more instructive than the Minnesota supreme court cases.

The court found that the nurse practitioner was acting in concert with the government when she interviewed T.L.K.:

Here, the nurse practitioner who interviewed T.L.K. did so at the request of the child protection worker and the investigating officer, Detective Manuel. These two “government officers” had determined that the interview was “the best way to proceed with the investigation.” The child protection worker monitored the interview, a videotape was provided to Detective Manuel who reviewed it shortly thereafter, and the prosecution followed almost immediately. We conclude that the nurse practitioner was at least “acting in concert with” the government in conducting the interview. There was no identified medical reason for the interview, and there was no imminent threat to the safety or welfare of T.L.K., who had been in foster care for two months.

The court of appeals also noted that in Davis, where statements to police were in issue, the Supreme Court found statements testimonial if they came in response to questions about past events which might be prosecuted:

As long as the information is not needed to make an immediate decision, evident when attempting to meet an ongoing emergency, the primary purpose of the interrogation is investigative. The difference is one between finding out “what is happening,” as in the case of an emergency, and finding out “what happened,” which occurs in the course of any investigation.

It did not matter what T.L.K.’s purpose was in speaking to the nurse practitioner, the court of appeals construed Davis to say. If the questions were asked as part of a government investigation of past events, that was enough to make the answers testimonial.

[T]here is no suggestion in Davis that the court should inquire into the declarant’s state of mind or her purpose in speaking with police, if, as the record makes clear in the immediate case, the declarant was interviewed “as the best way to proceed with the investigation.”

Not did it much matter what other future uses the answers might have:

Davis makes evident, when the government questioning concerns past events potentially relevant to later criminal prosecution, that there is no occasion for a broad inquiry into competing possible future uses of the information other than prosecution.

The court hesitated little in applying the tests in Crawford and Davis-cases involving statements to police officers-to statements to a medical practitioner:

The Supreme Court opinions in Crawford and Davis suggest a broad reading of the term “testimonial” statements even in this context of interviews of children conducted by medical staff. The Crawford Court expresses skepticism about the admissibility of statements “elicited by ‘neutral’ government officers.” Although the reference in Crawford was to questioning by police officers, the skepticism about government neutrality applies as strongly to private staff enlisted to investigate reports of child sexual abuse. Neither Crawford nor Davis suggests in this context that a medical professional who is acting in concert with police or child-protection workers will be sufficiently “neutral” or have a sufficiently non-investigative purpose merely because the interview is a medical procedure.

Review of this decision was granted December 20, 2006.