There is a Low Standard in Florida for the State to Obtain Medical Records by Subpoena After DUI Arrest

In most DUI cases in Florida, all of the evidence the state obtains is from the traffic stop, the DUI investigation at the scene and then the breathalyzer test at the jail if the defendant agrees to submit to the breathalyzer. This normally involves whatever reason the police officer gives for the traffic stop, the police officer’s observations after the stop (which pretty much always include the same observations of odor of alcohol, slurred speech, bloodshot and watery eyes, swaying, etc) and a breathalyzer result if the defendant agrees to the breathalyzer test. However, there are cases where more evidence may be available. For instance, if the defendant goes to the hospital for whatever reason during the course or after the arrest, the police may request a blood draw at the hospital to check for blood alcohol content or the medical personnel may seek their own blood draw for diagnosis and treatment purposes. In the latter case, the state may try to obtain those medical records to find out about blood alcohol content and learn whatever other incriminating information might be in the medical records. And they often obtain those records with a simple subpoena rather than a search warrant that has to be reviewed and signed by a judge.

In a recent case just south of Jacksonville, Florida, the police responded to the scene of a crash. The police investigated the defendant for DUI and reported the standard DUI observations. The defendant then agreed to submit to field sobriety tests, which is normally a terrible idea after a crash. These are very subjective tests graded by a person who likely already has decided the defendant is drunk. Additionally, these tests are even more difficult after a person may be disoriented from a traffic accident. The police will usually attribute any alleged mistakes to being impaired from alcohol or drugs rather than impaired or injured from the recent crash.

Due to the defendant’s condition, after the DUI arrest, the police took the defendant to the hospital to check him out medically. The state later subpoenaed those medical records from the hospital. The criminal defense lawyer objected based on the fact that medical records are private and legally protected. Despite that privacy and legal protection, the state can obtain medical records via subpoena if those records are relevant to a criminal investigation. One of the arguments was that the defendant did not ask to go to the hospital so the medical records were created as a result of unilateral state action. The court rejected these arguments. The relevance required to obtain these medical records in an ongoing criminal case is a very low standard. The court essentially said the medical records from the time of a DUI arrest will almost always be relevant. The court allowed the disclosure of the defendant’s medical records but only records related to blood alcohol content and observations from medical personnel regarding the defendant’s impairment.

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