SAN FRANCISCO — A patient's private communications with his psychotherapist generally may not be used as evidence to commit him to a mental institution as a sexually violent predator, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday.
In a decision written by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the state high court said a trial judge erred by ordering a therapist to disclose statements made by a parolee during state-required therapy. The therapist testified at a trial that determined that Ramiro Gonzales, 58, a Santa Clara County sex offender, was a violent predator who should be indefinitely confined to a state mental hospital.
Although Monday's ruling did not overturn Gonzales' confinement, the decision strengthened protections for the patient-psychotherapist relationship, Gonzales' lawyer said.
"If you are talking to a therapist and genuinely trying to get to work on something, there has to be a certain freedom to communicate in a way that is meaningful," said Jean Matulis, Gonzales' lawyer.
Gonzales, who had committed sex offenses involving children, was ordered as a condition of parole to attend therapy. After violating terms of his parole, the state sought to confine him as a predator. A judge ordered the therapist to testify over Gonzales' objections. The therapist disclosed that Gonzales had admitted molesting 16 children and that alcohol made it difficult for him to control his urges.