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Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act compelling psychotherapists to report patients’ access of child pornography is constitutional

By January 28, 2017Behavioral Health, Medicine
Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA) License Lawyer Attorney

Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA) License Lawyer AttorneyPsychotherapists are mandated by the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA) to report patients who disclose they have developed or accessed child pornography. A group of psychotherapists sued government officials for declaratory and injunctive relief, asserting that AB 1775, which amended the definition of “sexual exploitation” under CANRA to cover downloading or streaming child pornography, violated their patients’ constitutional right to privacy under the California and U.S. Constitutions.  The trial court sustained the defendants’ demurrers without leave to amend, ruling that patients have no fundamental right to view child pornography, and therefore have no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding their criminal misconduct.  Plaintiffs appealed.

The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that AB 1775 did not violate either the California or United States Constitutions.  The court held that patients have no legally protected privacy interest under the California Constitution regarding their disclosures to psychotherapists about accessing internet child pornography.  Moreover, patients have no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding communications about their criminal misconduct.  Finally, the state’s strong interest in combating child pornography outweighed any privacy interest patients could have regarding their communications about viewing child pornography.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the Court of Appeal held there was no privacy right to nondisclosure of personal medical information.  However, even if such a right existed, AB 1775 was entitled to a strong presumption of validity and would be upheld as long as California reasonably exercised its police powers to address “problems of vital local concern.”  The court held that California’s enforcement of laws criminalizing child pornography under CANRA was rationally related to the state’s interest in identifying and eliminating child pornography, and therefore the statute passed rational basis review.

Court Case: Mathews v. Harris (Jan. 9, 2017, B265990) __ Cal.App.5th __ [2017 WL 74773]

Prepared by H. Thomas Watson and Peder K. Batalden, Horvitz & Levy, LLP

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