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  1. #1
    Beth Vieira is offline Junior Member
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    Tarasoff and mandated homicide reporting

    What is the name of your state? California


    I am a suicide prevention volunteer. I would like to know the extent to which the Tarasoff precedent holds for suicide prevention crisis hotlines. The only information I can find covers mental health providers such as counselors, therapists, and psychiatrists. I cannot find any information about crisis lines and whether or not we are bound by law to report homicidal calls and notify the intended victim.

    Please advise.

    By the way, I do live in California, where the law is in effect.
  2. #2
    rmet4nzkx is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by Beth Vieira
    What is the name of your state? California


    I am a suicide prevention volunteer. I would like to know the extent to which the Tarasoff precedent holds for suicide prevention crisis hotlines. The only information I can find covers mental health providers such as counselors, therapists, and psychiatrists. I cannot find any information about crisis lines and whether or not we are bound by law to report homicidal calls and notify the intended victim.

    Please advise.

    By the way, I do live in California, where the law is in effect.
    Your reporting status should have been a part of your orientation. Please ask your supervisor what the specific requirements are.
  3. #3
    Beth Vieira is offline Junior Member
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    Tarasoff

    I contacted my supervisor immediately and did call the police. However, my supervisor was under the impression that Tarasoff did not bind us. My instincts tell me that this might be in error so I would like specific legal advice about it.

    This information then could update our manual and training procedures. I know that we are bound by law to report abuse and such. But the manual does not specifically mention the Tarasoff ruling.
  4. #4
    rmet4nzkx is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by Beth Vieira
    I contacted my supervisor immediately and did call the police. However, my supervisor was under the impression that Tarasoff did not bind us. My instincts tell me that this might be in error so I would like specific legal advice about it.

    This information then could update our manual and training procedures. I know that we are bound by law to report abuse and such. But the manual does not specifically mention the Tarasoff ruling.
    I suggest you go to the Welfare and Institutions and Penal codes and read that part. The codes don't necessiarly mention the Tarasoff ruling per se with the 1 exception of CALIFORNIA CODES
    FAMILY.CODE SECTION 216. Mandated reporting is in regard to exceptions to confidentiality. In your case you did the right thing, making the report, it is up to the police to take it from there. There may be a conflict if there is some disclaimer when a person calls the crisis line that says their call is confidential and now reports will be made, but if you report abuse, then you report both harm to self and others.
  5. #5
    CdwJava is offline Senior Member
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    It is my understanding that Tarasoff does NOT cover crisis hotlines ... unless you are a psychotherapist or related, covered individual. I also can find no other CA state law that mandates reporting by volunteers at a crisis hotline - but, thet aodes not mean that no such requirement exists. However! Failing to pass on credible and immediate threats to the appropriate authorities COULD open you and the service up to civil (and possibly, criminal) culpability.

    For your sake, I would make sure that you get a written clarification in a handbook or something because if you do NOT call next time, and someone DOES get killed, you could be in need of an attorney. It would be best if you had some written policy or directive to fall back on.



    - Carl
    A Nor Cal Cop Sergeant

    "Make mine a double mocha ...
    And a croissant!"

    Seek justice,
    Love mercy,
    Walk humbly with your God

    -- Courageous, by Casting Crowns ... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkM-gDcmJeM
  6. #6
    rmet4nzkx is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by CdwJava
    It is my understanding that Tarasoff does NOT cover crisis hotlines ... unless you are a psychotherapist or related, covered individual. I also can find no other CA state law that mandates reporting by volunteers at a crisis hotline - but, thet aodes not mean that no such requirement exists. However! Failing to pass on credible and immediate threats to the appropriate authorities COULD open you and the service up to civil (and possibly, criminal) culpability.

    For your sake, I would make sure that you get a written clarification in a handbook or something because if you do NOT call next time, and someone DOES get killed, you could be in need of an attorney. It would be best if you had some written policy or directive to fall back on.



    - Carl
    If the report is made in good faith, there is nothing to prevent it, they are not required to evaluate the threat or claim requires of the higher standard of a mandated reoprter. It is also possible that some volunteers at a crisis line might be mandated reporters elsewhere and others not. Of course it is important to distinguish between suicidal ideation and the means to accomplish it.
  7. #7
    Beth Vieira is offline Junior Member
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    thanks

    Thank you for your responses. Yes, I agree that a written protocol would be most effective, if not necessary. Indeed, that is why I am trying to find out as much as I can. Our training procedures and manual could then be updated, and that would benefit all concerned, the workers, the callers, and the public at large.

    I am still a bit unclear however. It seems that Tarasoff does not cover a hotline so we are not legally bound by the "duty to report" notion in the law. And yet, there must be some coverage of mandated reporting for such cases.

    With suicidal ideation, we assess lethality in detail before we act and involve the police or emergency services. The exception being if the person has already engaged in some sort of self-harm with suicidal intent; then we must call 911 immediately, regardless of what the lethality seems to be.

    But with homicidal ideation? It seems murky on the one hand, for how do we assess the seriousness of the threat. And yet it seems quite clear on the other, that any such threat needs to be reported. There is a fuzzy area with the reporting still. In Tarasoff, the health care provider must inform the authorities and also the intended victim. That is the law. In our case, we were dependent on the police, who in this case did NOT contact the intended target probably because the individual called from a pay phone and could not be located. So a bit of a dilemma. If someone called a hotline, saying they were feeling very homocidal and named me right off, I think I deserve to know that. Indeed, that seems to be the point of Tarasoff. So I come back to the initial question: if Tarasoff applies to us in fact, then we must also make sure that the named individual is notified, or we are also liable. Leaving it to the police in this case did not follow through with that part of the law.
  8. #8
    CdwJava is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by Beth Vieira
    if Tarasoff applies to us in fact, then we must also make sure that the named individual is notified, or we are also liable. Leaving it to the police in this case did not follow through with that part of the law.
    But Tarasoff does no appear to apply. And it doesn't apply to the police either. But, at least by notifying the proper authorities you might mitigate potential liability in a civil suit.

    Remember that while volunteer counselors may not have a legal requirement to report these types of threats, you can guarantee that the survivors or relatives of a victim of an attack that was predicated in this manner will sue the daylights out of anyone they can see - whether they will prevail or not would be very fact specific.

    - Carl
    A Nor Cal Cop Sergeant

    "Make mine a double mocha ...
    And a croissant!"

    Seek justice,
    Love mercy,
    Walk humbly with your God

    -- Courageous, by Casting Crowns ... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkM-gDcmJeM
  9. #9
    Beth Vieira is offline Junior Member
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    thanks

    Thanks for your reassurance. I am more concerned about safety than liability, I guess. It is disturbing enough to get a homicidal call, but to have lingering questions about it, especially about the poor guy out there who could be in danger and doesn't know it...well as a buddhist it doesn't sit well with my position on ethics, responsibility, and compassionate response. I guess I was hoping that there was a legal framework that would surround this issue so that it felt more contained. As it stands, though I know I did all that I could (well, maybe not all since I didn't contact the name of the targeted man), and it was up to the police, still it feels like there should be clearer guidelines governing such cases, as there are in mandated reporting of suspected abuse. Hard to believe that abuse is covered but not out and out homicide.

    I will try to get some sleep, but won't bet on it.
  10. #10
    CdwJava is offline Senior Member
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    Direct and specific threats are also covered in CA for counselors and such, but I am not well-versed in these regulations.

    As with all things, it is always best to do the RIGHT thing.

    - Carl
    A Nor Cal Cop Sergeant

    "Make mine a double mocha ...
    And a croissant!"

    Seek justice,
    Love mercy,
    Walk humbly with your God

    -- Courageous, by Casting Crowns ... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkM-gDcmJeM
  11. #11
    tranquility is offline Senior Member
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    CdwJava wrote:
    "As with all things, it is always best to do the RIGHT thing."

    This is the answer, but it's not so easy to figure out what the right thing is. An example might be the same facts as said to the actor's attorney. (Saying he is going to kill someone.) Attorney-client privilege in California would prevent the attorney from ethically telling the police what he suspects. But, how can anyone not take action to prevent another from being killed? The way most answer is the movie way, where some trick or device is used to get the person to admit the thing to someone else who does not have the same ethical problem. Others answer that even if they would be disiciplined by the Bar, they would report the person. The professor then starts questioning how *sure* you are the person was going to commit the serious crime and the benefits and reasons for the privilege in the first place.

    This is why the doing the right thing is not the answer. Let's assume that a suicide prevention hotline is of benefit to society. Let's also assume that more people call the hotline when they're in trouble because of the promise of confidentiality. If it gets known that people are being arrested or contacted for crimes they might commit after mentioning them to the hotline, will the usage of the hotline increase or decrease? Would that be a good thing or a bad thing?

    How sure must a person be before taking the broad step of reporting? In the original case, the holding was based upon the fact of a psychiatrist having regular contact with the dangerous paitent created a special relationship (like parent-child) where the psychiatrist had a duty to protect third parties. It has expanded since then, but the key is the special relationship. Can this special relationship be created over the phone on a single call? I mean, if someone says they are going to kill someone--how do you know they're serious? My understanding of the people coverd under the statute sourced to Tarasoff v. Board of Reagents, have substantial training in mental health. This training, combined with the seeing of a person in their professional capacity gives them an insight between the serious person and the person who is venting.

    That might be the reason why the hotline doesn't trace or otherwise contact the caller until the person admits to hurting themself. Because the ability to tell the seriousness of the threat to the caller or to others is not there. We all think we can "tell" when someone's serious, but the law currently only requires some to express their professional judgment.
    Last edited by tranquility; 04-04-2006 at 07:26 AM.
  12. #12
    rmet4nzkx is offline Senior Member
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    Immunity is provided for reports made in good faith, one reason to make the report.
    Even as a volenteer you ae still an employee in another sense of the word, for example many interns gain clinical hours "working" in Crisis hotlines. Here is a link explaining the basic aspects of confidentiality and it's limitaitons in the clinical setting, this includs links to the specific CA code. [url]http://www.guidetopsychology.com/confid.htm[/url]

    While not the question raised by OP, there are exceptions to the attorney-client privilege re confidentiality in limitd situations and far too complex to discuss on an online forum, however such information can be obtained from the CA Bar Association Ethics committee.
  13. #13
    CdwJava is offline Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by tranquility
    This is why the doing the right thing is not the answer.
    I would have to disagree.

    I have to look myself in the mirror evey morning. I have to take responsibility for each and every action - or inaction - I choose to perform. While the phrase may be simplistic, the idea is not - and sometimes doing the right thing can be very difficult and even dangerous. If the "right thing" is to maintain the privelege under the circumstances, so be it. But this is one reason why I could never be a defense attorney. While I wholly subscribe to the idea that the defendant needs an advocate, I could not listen to a baby raper tell me about his crime so that I could figure out a way to get him off. I would become physically ill.

    I adhere to a principle of doing the right thing. I follow a moral and ethical code that is based upon the principles of my faith and my walk with Christ. I do all I can to make every decision each day adhere to the principles of that faith. In short, I try to do "the right thing".

    - Carl
    A Nor Cal Cop Sergeant

    "Make mine a double mocha ...
    And a croissant!"

    Seek justice,
    Love mercy,
    Walk humbly with your God

    -- Courageous, by Casting Crowns ... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkM-gDcmJeM
  14. #14
    Beth Vieira is offline Junior Member
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    Tarasoff

    I appreciate your responses and respect different points of view. I hope there is no harm done here. (I too have ethical principles I follow that are indeed behind why I want to know more about this issue.)

    I figured out that there are 2 things that remain unclear and bother me:

    1. Some suicide prevention groups say that Tarasoff covers them, and some do not. Clearly it has not been tested with such organizations and for reasons I understand, having to do with the tenuous nature of the "relationship" on a hotline service, which is unlike a therapeutic situation that the law was aimed at covering. I think that some agencies just assume that safety comes first in general and then try to find a principle or legal precedent to justify whatever guidelines they adopt, such as "mandated reporter," etc.

    2. Tarasoff was designed to specifically add the duty to report to the intended victim as well as to the authorities. The case was in fact reported to the police, yet the police did nothing. It was this fact and the fact that the eventual victim was not notified of the threat that lead to the ruling. Now in my situation, the same has occurred. The police were notified, but the intended victim was not. So I am left with an ethical dilemma perhaps more than an out and out legal one, namely, does our agency or do I have the duty to report this threat to the individual?
  15. #15
    tranquility is offline Senior Member
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    What is "doing the right thing" according to the Bible and other guidelines followed in the case of a reletivly-untrained hotline counselor in this situation?

    My point was that the "right thing" was implied in your earlier comment and that the "right thing" is not always clear.

    The paramaters of right/wrong is far more clear in the case of an admitted baby rapist.

    Please. According to internet protocol of flame wars where the posts get outrageous and beyond the topic being discussed I now feel obligated to call you a ****. I don't really mean it. But if we were to start taking things to the extremes, I believe that is the next, silly, step.

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