Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Can Police Obtain My Hospital Records to Prove OUI in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, you might assume that your medical records are always private. Federal privacy laws prohibit healthcare providers from revealing your records, and doctors also protect your confidentiality from a purely ethical standpoint. But what happens when the authorities attempt to use your medical records to prove that you were Operating Under the Influence (OUI) in Massachusetts?  

In 2022, The Supreme Court Protected Medical Privacy for OUI Cases

In 2022, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) of Massachusetts ruled that obtaining someone’s hospital records to establish their BAC level was unlawful. In the case of Commonwealth v. Eric J. Moreau, the State police obtained these BAC levels by analyzing a blood draw conducted by hospital staff while a defendant received medical treatment. The defendant never consented to having his blood taken, and the police never even informed him of what was happening. 

Initially, a judge stopped the defendant from suppressing the evidence. After review, however, the SJC found that this was a clear error. They concluded that every defendant must consent to a blood test – whether it is made by police officers or “at the direction” of police officers. The SJC concluded that if authorities fail to obtain consent, any subsequent test results become inadmissible. 

Things might have been different if the suspect had been transported to a police station instead of a hospital. Specifically, the SJC noted that if the officer had placed the defendant under arrest, refusal to consent to a BAC test would have resulted in separate penalties. This type of situation happens quite frequently, as car accidents often cause injuries that require immediate hospitalization. The SJC also noted that the officer could have theoretically placed the suspect under arrest before transport to a hospital. In past cases, officers have placed OUI suspects under arrest while traveling with them in ambulances. 

In 2024, The Supreme Court Reduced Medical Privacy With a New Decision

While Massachusetts gave defendants solid medical privacy for a few years, the SJC returned to the issue two years later and started backpedaling. In Commonwealth v. Bradley Zucchino, the Supreme Court ruled that the Moreau decision only applied to simple OUI. Because the defendant in this case was facing a charge of OUI causing serious bodily injury, authorities were allowed to use blood samples taken from the defendant during their hospital treatment – without consent. Although the defendant sought the same privacy protections under Moreau, the judge denied this motion – a decision that was backed up by the SJC. 

What made this crash different? First, the crash in the Moreau case was a single-vehicle collision where the defendant had crashed into a tree. Aside from the defendant, no one else was injured. In Zucchino, the defendant had crashed into another vehicle – and this collision caused one death. The defendant then faced charges of OUI causing serious bodily injury – preventing them from seeking the same protections laid out by Moreau. The SJC wrote that the defendant’s reading of Moreau was “too broad.” 

Contact Edward R. Molari Today

The conflict between medical privacy and OUI laws can be complex. To discuss your case and potential defense strategies in more detail, contact a Massachusetts OUI defense lawyer today. Book your consultation with Edward R. Molari.