In a new PA Superior Court Case, Commonwealth v. Lloyd, 2008 Pa. Super. 101 (May 14, 2008), the Court upholds a search warrant for medical records obtained from a hospital by police after the county district attorney’s office illegally obtained the records.
The Delaware County District Attorney’s Office obtained blood alcohol content records from a hospital in a DUI prosecution by way of a subpoena. The defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence of his blood alcohol content because the District Attorney was required to obtain such evidence by way of a warrant because the blood test was administered pursuant to medical protocol, not at the direction of law enforcement. The defendant won the first motion to suppress.
However, the district attorney’s office then contacted the local police department and directed an officer to conduct an “independent” investigation into the case. The police officer then obtained a search warrant from a magisterial district judge. The warrant enabled the police to obtain the defendant’s blood alcohol results from the hospital. The defendant then filed a motion to suppress evidence again, but lost that time, and the Superior Court agreed with the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress.
The court announces the considerations required when applying the independent source doctrine, which are “(1) whether the decision to seek a warrant was prompted by what was seen as a result of government misconduct; and (2) whether the magisterial district judge was informed at all of the information improperly obtained.” The independent source must be truly independent from the tainted evidence or the investigative team that engaged in the misconduct leading to discovery of the tainted evidence.
Adding to the applicable standard in independent source cases, the court went on to state that “this is not to say that an impermeable barrier must be erected between the investigators that conducted the first improper investigation and those conducting the second investigation . . . the salient question for an appellate court’s review is whether and to what extent the government profited in their investigation from the initial violation, and whether the second warrant was secured by reference to the fruits of the previous error . . . the question is whether a warrant would have issued by the magistrate even absent the knowledge or evidence gleaned by that error.”
The court finds that the warrant would have issued anyway upon a police officers application because probable cause is founded upon the police officers’ observations on the night of the incident, i.e., the defendant’s demeanor and behavior, which is adequate to support probable cause that someone was driving under the influence. The court states that those observations were obtained legally.
It is important to note that the initial, unlawful acquisition of the defendant’s blood alcohol content by subpoena occurred after the majority of the first investigation. Thus, the facts supporting probable cause for the search warrant all occurred prior to the obtaining of the defendant’s blood alcohol content.
To view the case, click here. As of the time of this writing, no petition for allowance of appeal to the PA Supreme Court has been filed by the defendant. I’m going to keep an eye on this one though!