A cluster of groups that are advocates for pregnant women have weighed in on the Ohio Supreme Court’s consideration of an appeal in the case of a Carlisle teen accused of killing her newborn baby and burying it in the backyard in May 2017.
In October, the 12th District Court of Appeals sided with the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office concerning doctor-patient privilege in the case of Brooke Skylar Richardson, prompting the defense team to appeal to the state’s highest court.
Richardson, now 19, is charged with aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, gross abuse of a corpse, tampering with evidence and child endangering in the death of her infant daughter.
The appeals court ruled that physician-patient privilege doesn’t apply in the case and the teen’s conversations with two doctors should be admitted as evidence in her upcoming trial.
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Last week the defense team of Charles H. and Charles M. Rittgers filed a notice of appeal to the state’s highest court. It is up to the high court to decide if it has jurisdiction to take the case after the prosecution files a response.
On Wednesday, a legal team representing the National Prenatal Association, Center for Reproductive Rights, National Association of Prenatal Social Workers and Dr. Jonathan Schaffir filed a brief in support of the Richardson appeal, noting the appeals court decision could have a broader impact on the rights of pregnant women.
“The Twelfth District has created a non-statutory exception essentially eliminating physician-patient privilege for women who are or might become pregnant,” attorney David Thomas wrote in the memorandum of support of the appeal “(The advocates) are gravely concerned that allowing the Twelfth District ruling to stand would undermine public health and the constitutional rights of women in Ohio.”
The defense and prosecution appealed a split decision handed down by Warren County trial Judge Donald Oda III, just days before the trial was scheduled to begin this spring.
Oda ruled that doctor-patient privilege did not apply to anything Richardson said about burying the infant’s remains. However, Oda ruled that another conversation Richardson had with a different doctor was privileged.
Richardson’s defense team argued all of the teen’s conversations with her doctors about her pregnancy, or what may have happened afterward, were protected by doctor-patient privilege.
Warren County prosecutors, however, said a conversation Richardson had with one of her doctors — that she buried the remains in the backyard, which prompted the physician to call police — is not privileged because of a doctor’s duty to report abuse, neglect or other harm to a child.
During oral arguments at the 12th District, prosecutors stated the then 18-year-old Carlisle High School senior told doctors she never had any intention of having the baby.
Rittgers stated, “That is a total fabrication.”
In the brief of support, the advocates say the appeals court decision may cause women to avoid medical care during pregnancy for fear of criminal prosecution, threatens the constitutional rights of pregnant women in Ohio and threatens the constitutional rights of all low-income and minority pregnant women in the state.
“Low-income women are much more likely to be subjected to state action that are middle-or upper-class women. And black American women are significantly more likely to be arrested by hospital staff and subjected to felony charges,” the brief states.
The brief added minority women are also significantly more likely to suffer a stillbirth than white women.
Also stated in the document of support, is the argument that the Richardson decision by the 12th District threatens the health of women and fetuses by “having a chilling effect on communications with medical providers.”
Rittgers told the Journal-News the defense team “reached out” to other parties that might have interest in elements of the defense’s appeal for support.
“The court’s decision would drive a wedge between pregnant women and their physicians,” Rittgers said.
Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said he doesn’t know how much of an effect the advocates’ support will have on the court hearing the case.
“That is up to the justices to answer,” he said.
Fornshell said he knew by the timing of the filing that there had been communication between the Rittgers and the advocates.
“The defense is doing everything they can to make sure the jury does not hear her (Richardson’s) conversations with her physicians,” he said.
The prosecution has 30 days to file a response to the notice of appeal.
Typically the supreme court takes two to four months to decide whether it will hear the case, according to Anne Yeager, Supreme Court public information manager.