Officer Obtains Urine Test Result From Nurse: DUI Dismissed

Brynn Campbell was involved in a head on-crash which killed the 83-year-old woman driving the other car. Campbell was taken to the hospital, and hospital staff performed a urine test. Although Campbell showed no obvious signs of impairment, a police officer went to the hospital and asked the nurse for the urine test results. The results showed Campbell’s alcohol level was well over the limit, according to the Global News. The officer then obtained a search warrant to obtain Campbell’s urine samples and have them tested. Campbell was charged with vehicular homicide. She was acquitted by the trial court, and the prosecution appealed.

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The issue for the appeal was whether the defendant’s rights were violated if the urine test results were introduced as evidence at the trial. The Court of Appeal ruled this was a breach of Campbell’s constitutional rights. The Court commented that the police conduct was serious and stated, “The police intentionally obtained information from hospital staff in breach of medical confidentiality and relied on that information to obtain a warrant that otherwise could not have been issued.” The Court of Appeal upheld Campbell’s acquittal.

What Would Ohio Do?
In Ohio, we have a pair of laws which address the issue of law enforcement officers obtaining alcohol/drug test results from health care providers. Ohio Revised Code section 2317.022 states an officer who wishes to obtain such records can make a written request to the health care facility. Ohio Revised Code section 2317.02 states that, if an officer makes such a request, the health care facility shall supply to requested records. That statute has an exception for situations in which providing the records is specifically prohibited by any Ohio or federal law.

This issue was addressed by an Ohio appellate court in State v. Clark. In that case, the Court found an OVI suspect has a reasonable expectation of privacy in a blood or urine sample obtained by a hospital. Therefore, law enforcement must have a search warrant, or there must be a recognized exception to the warrant requirement.

The Clark Court relied on the United States Supreme Court decision in Missouri v. McNeely. That case held a warrant is necessary to obtain a suspect’s blood unless there are exigent circumstances such that obtaining a warrant would be impractical.

The Clark decision says there are not exigent circumstances in the hospital context because, “the tests have already been performed and their results are safely stored by the hospital.” Accordingly, the Court held a search warrant is necessary for law enforcement to obtain from health care providers the results of a suspect’s alcohol/drug tests.

This Issue Seems Controversial
Drunk driving continues to be a significant safety problem in the United States. If a suspect is treated by a medical provider and that treatment includes alcohol/drug tests, the government has a compelling interest in obtaining the test results from the medical provider. That’s why the Ohio legislature passed the two laws which permit law enforcement to obtain those test results with a written request.

However, those two Ohio laws do not adequately protect the accused individual. The suspect cannot prevent disclosure of the confidential medical records and is not even informed the medical records are being disclosed. More importantly, those laws do not have a procedure for ensuring the records disclosure is Constitutional.

As blood or urine samples are preserved at the hospital, there is no emergency, so law enforcement has time to obtain a search warrant. Given a person’s expectation of privacy in their medical records, it is appropriate to require law enforcement to obtain a search warrant from a judicial officer before the test results are disclosed.

Complex legal issues like this arise in Ohio DUI / OVI cases.  For people charged with DUI / OVI, it is important to be represented by qualified DUI/OVI lawyers.