Physician-Patient Privilege in Drunk Driving Cases

Physician-Patient Privilege in Drunk Driving Cases

It is common for a motorist suspected of drunk driving to come into contract with a physician. For example, if the motorist is injured in a traffic accident, first aid may be administered by a physician at the accident scene or the motorist may be taken to a hospital for treatment. In addition, law enforcement agencies often have policies in place that require them to take any motorists that are suspected of being intoxicated to a physician.

When a motorist is treated by a physician, the physician will observe the motorist’s physical condition and usually discuss with the motorist his or her physical condition. In some situations, the physician will administer a test similar to a field sobriety test or take a urine or blood sample from the motorist. The physician will probably be able to offer a medical opinion as to whether the motorist was under the influence of alcohol and whether the motorist was able to safely drive a vehicle.

If the prosecution attempts to call the physician as a witness in a drunk driving case, a defense attorney will generally attempt to exclude the physician’s testimony on the ground that admission of the testimony would violate the physician-patient privilege. The physician patient privilege is a rule of evidence that prohibits a physician from testifying about comments the patient makes to the physician while seeking medical advice. Not all states recognize a physician-patient privilege, but in states where the privilege is recognized, it can be an important weapon in the defense arsenal in a drunk driving case.

In order to invoke the physician-patient privilege, the defense must meet four requirements. First, a physician-patient relationship must have existed. Second, the information must have been acquired while the physician was attending to the patient in a professional capacity. Third, the information must have been necessary to enable the physician to act in a professional capacity. Finally, there must have been confidentiality.

In some states, a motorist may be allowed an examination by a physician of his or her choice. However, even when the motorist is examined by his or her own physician at his or her request, the physician may be called by the prosecution as a witness against the motorist unless the physician’s testimony is barred by some evidentiary rule. The privilege generally does not apply where the physician is called as a defense witness.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.