In a recent DUI case near Jacksonville, Florida, the case was thrown out of court after it was determined that the police obtained incriminating medical records about the defendant in violation of the law. In this DUI case, the defendant was involved in an accident and ultimately went to the hospital for treatment. The police officer who responded to the accident noted some signs of impairment from alcohol about the defendant and then went to the hospital to continue his DUI investigation. By the time the police officer arrived at the hospital to observe and question the defendant, the defendant had left the hospital against the doctor’s orders.
Prior to the defendant leaving the hospital, the hospital staff had discovered some incriminating DUI evidence against the defendant that was documented in his medical records. When the police officer arrived at the hospital, he obtained a copy of the defendant’s medical records without the defendant’s consent and without a subpoena signed by a judge. Those medical records were used against the defendant in the DUI case.
In Florida, everyone has a strong privacy right to keep his/her medical records confidential. The general rule is that hospitals and other medical personnel cannot disclose one’s medical records to anyone without the patient’s permission. One exception to that rule allows government or law enforcement officials in a criminal case (or the other party in a civil case) to obtain copies of a person’s medical records if they are relevant to the issues in the case. However, those records can only be released upon service of a valid subpoena.
In this case, the police officer probably told the hospital staff that he was investigating a DUI with an accident and had a need and a right to obtain the defendant’s medical records. However, because those records were obtained without a subpoena and in violation of the law, they could not be used against the defendant in the DUI case, and the DUI case was ultimately thrown out of court.