Pennsylvania v. Ritchie

LOCATION:United States Tax Court

DOCKET NO.: 85-1347
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

CITATION: 480 US 39 (1987)
ARGUED: Dec 03, 1986
DECIDED: Feb 24, 1987

Edward Marcus Clark – on behalf of the petitioner
John H. Corbett, Jr. – as amicus curiae, in support of the judgment below

Facts of the case


Media for Pennsylvania v. Ritchie

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – December 03, 1986 in Pennsylvania v. Ritchie

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – February 24, 1987 in Pennsylvania v. Ritchie

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 85-1347, Pennsylvania against Ritchie will be announced by Justice Powell.

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.:

This case is here from the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

It presents a question as to the confidentiality of the State’s child abuse records.

In Pennsylvania there is a State agency entitled Children and Youth Services.

Its purpose is to investigate reports of child abuse and state law provides that its record shall be confidential.

The respondent was charged with sexual abuse of his daughter.

Prior to his trial he sought access to the records pertaining to his daughter claiming that they might contain exculpatory information.

The agency refused to comply with the subpoena and the trial judge denied respondent’s request to compel disclosure.

Respondent was convicted.

On appeal the Pennsylvania Supreme Court disagreed with the Trial Court.

It held that under the Confrontation and the Compulsory Process Clauses of the Sixth Amendment the respondent through his lawyer was entitled, prior to trial to review the confidential records for purpose of obtaining information that might be relevant to his defense.

For the reasons stated in our opinion filed today we affirm in part and reverse in part and we remand the case for further proceedings.

Respondent, as the defendant on a criminal case, is entitled to have the Trial Court determine whether the agency’s file contains information material to his defense, but we also find that respondent is not entitled to examine the confidential records.

The Commonwealth has a compelling interest in protecting the confidentiality of those who provide information on child abuse.

This is an interest that is shared by all 50 states that have similar laws.

We think the respondent’s interest in a fair trial can be protected adequately by having the trial judge examine the records in camera to determine whether and to what extent they contain exculpatory information.

Justice Blackmun has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment; Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Marshall has joined; Justice Stevens also has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Brennan and Marshall and Scalia have joined.

Justice Stevens and the Justices who joined him conclude that the judgment below was not filed for purposes of review.

Therefore they did not reach the merits of this case.