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Kevin O'Flaherty

Can hospital blood tests be used as evidence in a DUI case? The short answer is yes, but with conditions. The legal admissibility of these tests rests on specific case elements and statutory requirements concerning how the tests are administered and the samples handled. This article outlines the critical factors that influence whether a hospital blood test can tip the scales in a DUI case, addressing the complex interplay of consent, legal procedure, and scientific analysis.

Key Takeaways

  • Hospital blood tests can be used as evidence in DUI cases but must meet legal standards for admissibility.
  • The accuracy and type of blood tests (whole blood vs. plasma) are crucial and may need expert testimony.
  • Defendants can challenge DUI blood test results by questioning sample handling, analysis accuracy, and testing delays.

For some foundational information about Illinois DUI law, check out our article: Illinois DUI Law Explained.  The short answer is that hospital blood tests can be used as evidence in DUI cases.

Hospital Blood Tests as DUI Evidence

In 2000, the Supreme Court answered a certified question from the Fourth District, establishing that records of hospital blood tests can be used as evidence in DUI cases. If an individual is arrested for driving under the influence, the results of his or her medical tests can be legally disclosed to police, despite privacy laws concerning health information. Many drivers believe their medical records are protected from disclosure by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). However, federal law clearly states that health information is not protected if it relates to an individual who is in lawful custody of law enforcement.

Also, Section 11-501.4 of the Illinois Vehicle Code states that the results of blood or urine testing conducted at the emergency room may be disclosed to law enforcement and are admissible in evidence in a prosecution for DUI. Health information may be disclosed to law enforcement officials for law enforcement purposes under the following six circumstances:

  • As required by law (including court orders, court-ordered warrants, subpoenas) and administrative requests.
  • To identify or locate a suspect, fugitive, material witness, or missing person.
  • In response to a law enforcement official’s request for information about a victim or suspected victim of a crime.
  • To alert law enforcement of a person’s death, if the covered entity suspects that criminal activity caused the death.
  • When a covered entity believes that protected health information is evidence of a crime that occurred on its premises.
  • By a covered health care provider in a medical emergency not occurring on its premises, when necessary to inform law enforcement about the commission and nature of a crime, the location of the crime or crime victims, and the perpetrator of the crime.

Legal Disclosure of Medical Records

This does not mean, however, that all results of blood and urine testing from the emergency room are admissible in all cases. A DUI conviction requires a blood alcohol level (BAC) of .08% or higher. Police officers have various methods of testing the level of alcohol in a person’s blood. The results or findings of all kinds of tests are admissible in court; but the situation has to fit two statutes:

  1. Evidence must be used in the prosecution of a violation of 11-501 (criminal offense of a DUI)
  2. Evidence is not admissible for the prosecution of any other criminal offense besides DUI and reckless homicide

Drivers should typically not consent to a field sobriety or portable breath test at the scene of the arrest. Drivers may also refuse a police blood test (DUI kit). It’s important to understand the different kinds of blood tests and legal scenarios. For example, there are two types of blood tests: a whole blood test and a blood plasma (serum) test. Each blood test has its own legal requirements to be admissible in court.

Hospitals usually perform blood plasma tests. A blood plasma test is performed on the liquid portion of a drawn blood sample after the solid cellular components have been separated. A legal blood test, on the other hand, is performed on whole blood that has not been broken down into solid and liquid components. The distinction between blood plasma tests and whole blood tests is critical when analyzing the reported BAC levels, because a plasma test will show 10-15% higher results than a whole blood test from the same person.

Types of Blood Tests in DUI Cases

There are two types of blood draws, as well. First, a consent draw (DUI kit) requires the consent of the client, obtained by the police officer. Next, the police officer officially requests a blood test from the hospital. That officer would typically be present and serve as a legal witness to the drawing in order to confirm authenticity. The Illinois State Police regulation requires the blood to be collected by a licensed physician, registered nurse, training phlebotomist, or certified paramedic. Consent draws are typically used as evidence for prosecution. Police may order a blood test without consent, if one of the following scenarios were to occur:

  • You are dead, unconscious, or otherwise incapable of refusing the test.
  • Police successfully subpoena hospital records to assist them in providing DUI charge.
  • Police are present during treatment and request the results from hospital personnel.
  • Based on BAC, police may ask for a second sample to analyze in their own lab.
  • You consent to police testing separate from blood test given by the doctor.

The second type of blood draw is an emergency room draw. Keep in mind; every police officer has the legal duty of protecting any person in custody. Law enforcement doesn’t want to be sued, so if a person needs immediate medical care, a police officer is going to admit the person in custody to the emergency room (the law does not define an “emergency room”). Likewise, all medical facilities operate on a strict protocol, and failure to follow protocol may be considered negligent or leave the hospital liable for malpractice. One of the medical staff’s first priorities is blood and urine analysis to check for alcohol and drugs, or any preexisting medical conditions. In other words, if you need immediate medical attention, a hospital is usually going to conduct an emergency blood test on you (serum).

Any blood alcohol tests conducted as emergency medical treatment is admissible in a DUI prosecution. However, the defense can file a motion to exclude test results from the case. The state is allowed to request the court to sign a Qualified Protective Order for use with a subpoena for your medical records. Once received, the State may also call a forensic toxicologist with the Illinois State Police to perform this calculation and present a conversion report., The blood test results have to be proved to be conducted in the regular course of providing emergency medical treatment, not at the request of law enforcement, to be admissible in court. If the police were the reason behind the testing, it is not admissible. The police would also not be allowed to circumvent the law for chemical testing by taking an uninjured person to the emergency room.

Challenging Hospital Blood Test Results

Hospital blood tests are critical in DUI cases, but their results can be contested. These contestations may relate to legal and constitutional mandates, such as the need for a warrant or adherence to an individual’s right to refuse testing. Questions might arise regarding the methods employed in administering hospital blood tests and the accuracy of these test results if they appear inconsistent with how the patient is presenting clinically.

To challenge these blood test outcomes effectively, several factors could come into play: mishandling of samples, incorrect analysis procedures or delays in testing. Subsequent sections will delve into each of these issues more deeply because they all hold potential implications for whether blood test evidence will be considered valid and impactful during court proceedings.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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