In the Interest of J.M.G.

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J.M.G. was placed in a juvenile treatment facility for an offense he committed as a minor and court ordered to participate in treatment. Subsequently, in a separate hearing to civilly commit him, the court considered prior statements he made to his psychiatrist and psychologist during the course of treatment in violation of his psychotherapist-patient privilege. The Superior Court held that even though this violated his confidentiality, it was harmless error as he would have been committed based on other information. 

Juvenile Law Center and Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society, along with pro bono counsel Ballard Spahr LLP, filed an amicus brief in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in support of J.M.G. Our brief argued that effective psychiatric treatment requires absolute confidentiality and disclosing privileged communications between a psychiatrist and patient is never harmless error.

Referencing the arguments in our brief, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court reasoning that “scrupulous adherence to the psychotherapist-patient privilege” is fundamental to fair proceedings and therefore, “the harmless error doctrine is not applicable to violations of . . . psychotherapist-patient privilege in Act 21 proceedings.”