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November 22, 2019

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Appeals court reverses conviction of Bluffton physician

Involving Dr. James A. Gideon, M.D., whose practice was on Garau Street

The Court of Appeals of Ohio Third Appellate District has reversed ­­– rendering null and void – the April, 2018, conviction of Dr. James A. Gideon, M.D., Bluffton rheumatology and internal medicine physician, on three misdemeanor charges in Lima Municipal Court.

The court of appeals issued its judgment on June 24.

Based on a jury trial in April, 2018, Dr. Gideon, who had a practice on Garau Street, was found guilty of three cases of sexual imposition and sentenced to a total of six months in jail, a fine, and registration as a tier one sexual offender. This type of conviction also involves mandatory loss of his medical license by the state medical board.

Believing this trial to be flawed in several respects, Dr. Gideon appealed this decision, citing at least three separate issues, which he believed to be contrary to acceptable judicial practice.

The court’s 41-page opinion is attached at the bottom of this story.

“The critical factor in this conviction was based on results of an interview conducted by a state medical board investigator,” Dr. Gideon told the Icon this week. "This unannounced visit took the form of a hostile interrogation lasting over two hours, ending in a confession, which was contrived and false because of the intimidation, manipulation and tactics used by this investigator."

 Because of the way the interview was conducted, Dr. Gideon told the Icon that he requested that it be suppressed. This motion was denied by the trial court resulting in a subsequent conviction.

Following this, Dr. Gideon filed an appeal based on several different issues.

The appeals court concluded that the interview of Dr. Gideon by a state medical board investigator violated acceptable procedures under the U.S. Constitution and hence, as a critical  basis for this conviction, rendered the conviction null and void.

The review court's reasoning was based on a case of law “Garrity versus New Jersey," a 1967 Supreme Court decision, which has been upheld numerous times and which protects the right against self-incrimination when the person being interviewed has a credible fear of severe recriminations if the person does not answer self-incriminating questions.”

In that case, an individual was compelled to provide self-incriminating testimony under the threat of punitive action, violating the prohibition against self-incrimination (Fifth Amendment), and of  the similarities with the present case."

A summary of the basis for this decision by the Third Circuit review court follows:
Prior to the investigator’s interview of Gideon, Bluffton police told the investigator that Gideon “denied any improprieties during [law enforcement’s] interview” of Gideon. Gideon believes that he gave an accurate account during this interview, in contrast to the statements coerced by the medical board investigator.

The review court concluded that "The evidence in the record reveals that the investigator exceeded statutorily permissible collaboration by taking demonstrable steps to coerce Gideon." The appeals court concluded that the investigator’s intent for the investigation reflects the demonstrable state action necessary to support Gideon’s subjective belief that his medical license would be penalized if he failed to cooperate with the investigation.

The following summarizes the court's finding of fact regarding the interaction between Gideon and the medical board investigator:
The review court noted that the investigator contacted police prior to interviewing Gideon, and “discussed that [he] was going to hold off on the administrative investigation until [law enforcement determined] that [Investigator] could interview [Gideon].” 

The court noted that investigator’s intention for sharing his investigative plan with law enforcement was to “determine how [law enforcement] was going to proceed with the criminal case” because proving an administrative-sanction case is easier “from a criminal conviction” as opposed to “through witness testimony.”

Specifically, the investigator’s interview of Gideon reflects his intent to assist law enforcement in obtaining a criminal conviction of Gideon for purposes of influencing the outcome the administrative-sanction case against Gideon.

To this end, the investigator testified that "doctors are obligated to cooperate in our investigation."

Keeping his training in mind, the investigator arrived unannounced to Gideon’s medical office to conduct his interview to catch him “off guard” “to get the truth out of [him].”

Despite Gideon having patient appointments at the time of the visit, the investigator did not advise Gideon that he did not have to speak with him that day or otherwise offer to reschedule – he merely asked Gideon “if he would have a few minutes to chat with” him.

In other words, the investigator did nothing to dissuade Gideon’s belief that he was statutorily obligated to cooperate with his investigation, which included consenting to the investigator’s request to “chat.”

Likewise, and unbeknownst to Gideon, the investigator recorded the interview even though it is not the board’s “protocol” to surreptitiously record interviews of subjects.

Moreover, the investigator chose not to inform Gideon that he intended to share with law enforcement Gideon’s statements despite it being his intention to do so.

In addition, during the interview, the investigator advised Gideon at multiple points to “to go back to [law enforcement] and change his statement” to avoid facing possible falsification charges. The court concluded that investigator’s insistence that Gideon return to law enforcement to change his statement is also evidence supporting Gideon’s belief that a refusal to give a statement will be met with a licensure penalty.

The court noted that Gideon and the investigator possessed an implicit, trust-like relationship and that the investigator exploited that relationship to satisfy his ulterior motive of coercing Gideon into making statements against his interest for law enforcement to ultimately obtain a criminal conviction against him. 

At the conclusion of the interview, instead of reporting back to the state medical board, the investigator immediately went to the Bluffton Police Department to report Gideon’s confessions to law enforcement.

Thus, despite his employment responsibilities with the state medical board, the investigator chose to immediately share Gideon’s confessions with law enforcement “because the doctor had an interview with [law enforcement] where he denied any impropriety so [he] wanted to tell [law enforcement] what happened during [his] interview.” 

Based on the above, the appeals court reached the following conclusion:
The investigator’s  actions created an impression that Gideon’s refusal to cooperate with his investigation would result in the type of penalty prohibited under Garrity, adding that Gideon’s belief that his medical license would be penalized if he did not cooperate with the investigation was objectively reasonable.

The appeals court therefore concluded that the trial court erred by denying Gideon’s motion to suppress oral and written statements that he made to the investigator as evidence.

Since the statements to the medical board investigator assigned a salacious intent to Gideon's medical care, these statements were foundational to establishing a conviction of sexual misconduct.

Note that the court’s entire 41-page opinion is attached verbatim at the bottom of this story.