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Fourth Amendment and DUI: Blood Tests at the Hospital.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | June 13, 2010

No. 456

On May 24, 2010 the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, sitting en banc, held that the trial court had erred in suppressing blood test results taken by hospital staff because in the absence of specific indications to the contrary, it is presumed that the blood was drawn for independent medical purposes, not for the purpose of convicting defendant and could, by statute, be obtained by police with a search warrant. Commonwealth v. Keith A. Miller, No. 884 MDA 2008.

Miller drove his black Ford Probe into a telephone pole.  He was found in the driver’s seat by the police in a state of unconsciousness, emitting a strong odor of alcohol. A case of beer was behind the driver’s seat.

An officer accompanied the ambulance to the hospital.  He did not request a blood test and there is no indication on the record that the hospital performed such a test for the purpose of aiding a prosecution.

The police obtained the hospital records with a search warrant, including the record of driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC), which was 2.2. Based on the information contained in the hospital records, the driver was charged with DUI and careless driving. The driver filed a motion to suppress.

After the suppression hearing, the trial court granted the motion to suppress the medical records. It reasoned that the Commonwealth had the burden of proving that the procurement of the blood sample did not violate the Fourth Amendment and had failed to provide any evidence. While the police had probable cause for a warrant to obtain the medical records, the hospital may not have had probable cause to draw blood, if it was done for the purpose of prosecution for DUI.

The Commonwealth filed an appeal to the Superior Court and a panel of the Court affirmed.  The Commonwealth requested en banc reargument, which was granted.   The Court en banc reversed, with three Judges dissenting.

The Commonwealth asserted that when there was no evidence of the purpose of a blood test, absent circumstances that indicate the blood was drawn to establish the blood alcohol level, it should be presumed that the purpose was medical.

The import of this assertion is that the hospital must have probable cause to draw blood to establish the blood alcohol level for criminal prosecution, since it is acting as an agent of the State.  However, no probable cause is required to draw blood to be used for medical purposes.

Since the police can obtain the medical records with a warrant, the effect of this presumption is to avoid the possibility that the hospital actually took the blood to establish the blood alcohol level without probable cause.

A strong dissenting opinion was written by Judge Allen, perhaps assuring that the case will ultimately be decided on further appeal by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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