The Iowa Supreme Court has issued a ruling that outlines when the mental health records of a crime victim can be released. The ruling involves a Marshall County case where Ross Cashen was charged with domestic assault and willful injury against Chastity Schulmeister after a fight in April of 2007. Cashen said his actions were in self defense.

Schulmeister had admitted in a deposition that she suffered from post traumatic distress, anxiety, depression, and admitted that she had been in abusive relationships with other boyfriends. Cashen asked for permission to see Schulmeister’s mental health records. The district court and appeals court both agreed to Cashen’s request to the records without any limitations.

The Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts that Cashen needed to see Schulmeister’s privileged records to lessen the chance he would be wrongfully convicted, but said the lower courts must use a specific protocol they set down for such records. The protocol says a defendant is not entitled to engage in a fishing expedition when seeking a victim’s mental health records, and must make a showing to the court that the defendant has a reasonable basis to believe the records are likely to contain evidence tending to create a reasonable doubt as to the defendant’s guilt.

The Supreme Court also sets out several other steps for obtaining and using the records and requires the use of adequate safeguards to avoid unauthorized disclosure. Justice Mark Cady issued a dissenting opinion. Cady says the protocol gives the defendant more power than necessary to protect the right to a fair trial, while presenting a serious risk of a different form of abuse for victims of domestic violence.

Cady’s opinion says this new test may also ultimately cause victims to decline to report domestic abuse in order to protect themselves from being required to disclose very personal and private information to the alleged abusers and other parties to the prosecution.

See the entire ruling here: Records case PDF