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Rhode Island Court Permits Child’s Letter to Be Read into Evidence by Therapist

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Rhode Island family law case discussing whether a letter that was written by a child to her father as part of a therapeutic exercise could be admitted into evidence in a hearing determining whether the father’s parental rights should be terminated. Ultimately, although the letter was an out-of-court statement, the court concluded that the letter was admissible.

The Facts of the Case

This was not the first time this particular case came before the Supreme Court of Rhode Island. In fact, the procedural history of the case is quite complex. To summarize the facts, the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) moved to terminate Father’s parental rights after it was determined that his daughter was not provided a “minimum degree of care, supervision or guardianship.” At the time, the Father was incarcerated for murder. Father’s parental rights were ultimately terminated, based primarily on the fact that Father was imprisoned and his daughter had been in DCYF custody for 12 consecutive months. Evidence was also presented suggesting Father physically abused and neglected his daughter.

After the termination order, Father’s conviction for murder was reversed. Father then sought to appeal the decision terminating his parental rights. In opposition to Father’s request, DCYF offered the testimony of the daughter’s therapist.

The therapist was certified as an expert witness, and testified about a letter-writing exercise that she worked on with the daughter. In that exercise, the daughter was encouraged to express her feelings in a non-aggressive manner by writing a letter to Father. The letter voiced anger toward Father. However, because it was only an exercise, the letter was never sent. At the termination hearing, the expert discussed the exercise and read the letter into the record. The court later concluded that Father’s parental rights should remain terminated.

Father appealed the court’s decision on several grounds, one of which was the introduction of the letter into evidence. Father claimed that the letter was hearsay testimony that should have been barred from admission. The court, however, disagreed, holding that the letter was admissible under Rhode Island Rule of Evidence 803(d)(4), which allows statements to be admitted when they are made for medical diagnoses or treatment. The court explained that the letter-writing exercise was part of the daughter’s treatment, and fit squarely under Rule 803(d)(4). Thus, the therapist was permitted to discuss the letter and read it into the record.

Are Your Parental Rights at Stake?

If you are currently fighting to preserve your parental rights, contact the Rhode Island family law attorneys at the law firm of Bilodeau Capalbo. At Bilodeau Capalbo, we provide experienced representation to individuals seeking to protect their parental rights. We have over 35 years of experience assisting clients with their unique needs, and offer new clients a free consultation to discuss how we can help you with the situation you are currently facing. To learn more, call 401-300-4055 to schedule your free consultation today.

See Related Posts:

Common Law Marriage in Rhode Island, Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer Blog, December 12, 2018.

The Division of Property Following a Rhode Island Divorce, Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer Blog, November 29, 2018.

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