Many times we find ourselves speaking to a trusted friend, counselor or doctor concerning a private matter. Should a criminal or civil case arise, these confidences may be broken by a court of law. Knowing what laws apply to these confidences is essential to peace of mind and to court proceedings.
Without the consent of or request by a patient, no licensed medical practitioner is permitted to testify in any civil action about information received while treating, examining or attending the patient in a professional capacity. This rule does not apply when the physical or mental condition of the patient is at issue in a civil case. That means that in a personal injury case where the plaintiff is claiming injuries from an accident, the doctor may testify about the treatment statements of the plaintiff and maybe even concerning expert opinions.
This is a general rule and there are few Virginia Supreme Court cases that address the extent that the treating physician may have to testify. These privileges only apply to civil cases and do not apply in criminal cases; for more information see Virginia code section 8.10 – 399. The privilege also does not apply in some cases involving child abuse or Worker’s Compensation, or if the injury was inflicted by certain weapons.
Communications between licensed professional counselors, license clinical social workers or licensed psychologist and their patients can only be disclosed at the request of the client. These professionals are not required in a civil action to disclose any information that was communicated to them. If the mental condition of the client is at issue in the action, a court may deem disclosure necessary. These privileges do not extend to testimony and manners relating to child abuse and neglect cases or other reporting requirements.
In a criminal or a civil case, the arresting officer cannot be compelled to disclose the name of his or her informant, even if it directly led to the issuing of a warrant.
If a deaf person communicates to an interpreter under any circumstances that can be considered privileged, that interpreter cannot be compelled to testify. This privilege applies to civil and criminal courts.
Again, any communication through an interpreter to a person who qualifies for a privilege maintains that privilege. This applies in criminal as well as civil cases.
If there are reasonable grounds to believe information that is material in to prove a criminal offense or to prove the defense, to reduce a classification of a charge or to mitigate a penalty, may require the reporter to be compelled to disclose the information. If the court deems such disclosures necessary, the privilege of confidentiality must be yielded to the court, or the court may hold the newsperson in contempt.
The privilege of a witness to not self-incriminate can be invoked in both criminal and civil cases. A claim of the Fifth Amendment privilege in a non-criminal proceeding must specifically relate to particular question.