In most DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs) cases in Florida, the police arrest a person they believe is driving while impaired. That DUI suspect is taken to the jail and booked. Only after the suspect is taken to the jail do the police ask the suspect to take a breathalyzer test to test the suspect’s blood alcohol level. In some cases, where the breathalyzer test is not practical, often when there is an accident and the suspect is taken to the hospital, the police will request a blood draw to test that blood for alcohol content.
A DUI suspect may refuse a breath test or a blood test. Due to the implied consent laws in Florida, a refusal may come with certain consequences (such as a longer driver’s license suspension and the state trying to use the refusal as evidence in court), but the suspect cannot be forced to submit to a breath, blood or urine test as a general rule.
However, if the DUI suspect refuses the breathalyzer or a blood or urine test, the police may try to get a subpoena for the blood that they can send to the lab to test for alcohol content. Alternatively, the state can try to subpoena a person’s medical records in cases where a suspect went to the hospital after a crash, and the hospital tested the suspect’s blood for alcohol or drugs. It’s not something we see often, but a subpoena is a tool the police and the state have to obtain evidence when it is otherwise difficult or impossible for the state to get that evidence. In a DUI case, that evidence can be the difference between a strong case and a weak case.
In a recent DUI case just south of Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was involved in a crash and taken to the hospital. The police officer went to the hospital, spoke to the defendant and made some standard observations about the defendant’s appearance and speech. Because the police officer’s evidence of impairment was weak, the state later tried to subpoena the defendant’s medical records from that hospital visit to see if the hospital took the defendant’s blood and tested it for alcohol and drugs.
The criminal defense lawyer objected to the subpoena. While a subpoena is like a court order that requires the recipient to provide whatever materials are requested in the subpoena, the recipient of the subpoena and/or the defendant who would be impacted by the materials can object to the subpoena to the court. In this case, the criminal defense attorney argued that the state did not have reasonable suspicion to believe the medical records were relevant to criminal activity. Medical records are confidential, and the state cannot obtain them whenever they want. The state has to show they are specifically relevant to the criminal case. In this case, the evidence that the defendant was impaired by alcohol or drugs was weak. Therefore, the judge denied the state’s request for a subpoena of the medical records. Without sufficient evidence of a DUI, the state could not obtain the defendant’s medical records because here was no reasonable suspicion they would be relevant to the DUI case.