The Idaho Supreme Court ruled on February 24 that St. Luke's Children at Risk Evaluation Services (CARES) interviews can be admissible because the statements are made for medical diagnosis or treatment purposes. St. Luke's CARES interviews provide evaluation and treatment for abused or neglected children. The evaluation includes a forensic interview, a psychosocial interview and a medical examination.
The decision from the Idaho Supreme Court comes from a criminal case that started on May 30, 2017. Two minors said Dave Lee Christensen had touched them inappropriately, and a CARES interview was done in June 2017.
On August 8, 2017, Christensen was indicted by a grand jury on five counts of lewd conduct with two minors under the age of 16. A jury later found him guilty on four of the five felony charges.
During the trial, prosecutors introduced the victims' CARES interviews as evidence, which the district court found was admissible because it was a statement made for medical diagnosis. Christensen filed an appeal, arguing that the district court abused its discretion by admitting the interviews as evidence, claiming the victims may not have understood their statements made in the interviews were for medical diagnosis or treatment.
"The district court found that CARES' focus is mainly on medical procedures intended to discover trauma inflicted on children, to address that trauma, and to treat it," the Supreme Court opinion states.
Furthermore, the opinion found that CARES interviews serve a dual medical and forensic purpose, the statements are admissible in court because "they are gleaned from a process designed to aid and inform treatment and diagnosis of the child's medical condition."
The Idaho Supreme Court upheld the Ada County District Court, stating the court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the interviews under Idaho's Rules of Evidence.
"This ruling helps young victims of physical and sexual abuse in Idaho," said Ada County Prosecutor Jan M. Bennetts.
The prosecutor's office is grateful for the partnerships it has with St. Luke's CARES and law enforcement in successfully protecting young victims. Bennetts thanks the CARES staff and the Meridian Police Department for their thorough investigation in this case.
Children are primarily referred to CARES by child protective services, law enforcement agencies and the court. If you suspect child abuse or neglect, call 211 and state your intention or call your local law enforcement agency.