FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 9, 2015
Contact: James Hallinan (505) 660-2216
Santa Fe, NM – The New Mexico Supreme Court issued an opinion today in State v. Strauch, No. 34,435. The State of New Mexico prevailed on the arguments presented by the Attorney General’s Office and the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department. Attorney General Balderas applauded the Supreme Court’s decision and released the following statement today:
“I am pleased the New Mexico Supreme Court agreed with our position regarding the Abuse and Neglect Act because it will immediately increase protections for New Mexico children from abusers,” said Attorney General Hector Balderas. “Social workers have a very difficult and critical job, and today’s ruling empowers them to continue doing their job of protecting our state’s most vulnerable with the understanding the protection of a child may require disclosure.”
The Abuse and Neglect Act in the New Mexico Children’s Code mandates that “every person…who knows or has a reasonable suspicion that a child is an abused or a neglected child shall report the matter” to specified authorities. During the prosecution for four counts of criminal sexual contact of a minor in the second degree, the district court in Albuquerque found that defendant Strauch’s communications during his therapy sessions with a social worker were not subject to any disclosure. During these sessions, Strauch revealed his continued sexual assaults on his minor daughter. The State sought to introduce the testimony of the therapist. The district court concluded these communications were protected by statute and privileged communications according to the rules of evidence. A protective order was issued.
The Attorney General’s Office appealed the district court’s ruling. In October 2013, the New Mexico Court of Appeals found that the district court’s protective order that barred the testimony of a social worker about reported child abuse was valid. In response to the New Mexico Court of Appeals opinion in 2013, legislative proposals are pending in this 2015 session. This opinion clarifies and imposes the duty of reporting child abuse to all social workers. See attached for the New Mexico Supreme Court’s Opinion.
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