Can Hospital Medical Tests Prove Intoxicated Manslaughter?

Drunk driving is never a good thing. Even a first-time offense can lead to a criminal record and the loss of your driver’s license. But when drunk driving leads to another person’s death, the consequences are dire regardless of the number of prior offenses. Intoxication manslaughter is a second-degree felony in Texas. This means that if you drink, drive, and kill someone, you could go to prison for up to 20 years.

Court: Urine Test Performed by Doctors Admissible

Prosecutors and law enforcement are understandably aggressive when it comes to proving intoxication manslaughter. This is why you need to be aware of your rights when under suspicion of this or any other serious felony. For example, while you may know that police cannot normally obtain a blood sample without your consent or a warrant, there are several legal end-runs around this.

Consider this recent intoxicated manslaughter case from Waco. In this case, a woman died in a car accident. The defendant was the driver of the other vehicle. He was taken from the accident scene to the hospital. According to medical records, the defendant “was not cooperative with hospital personnel.” This led hospital staff to take the defendant’s urine sample without his consent so they could perform “medical diagnosis and treatment.”

As it turned out, this urine analysis indicated the presence of illegal narcotics in the defendant’s system at the time of the accident. These test results were later introduced at the defendant’s trial for intoxication manslaughter. The defendant moved to suppress this evidence under the Texas exclusionary rule, which states that “[n]o evidence obtained by an officer or other person in violation” of state or federal law may be used in a criminal trial. The defendant maintained the urine sample was obtained after hospital personnel inserted a catheter in him without his consent–which he described as a “sexual assault.”

The trial judge disagreed with this characterization. More to the point, the court said the sample was taken by hospital personnel for medical purposes. It was therefore not a “search” conducted by “agents of the state,” and not subject to the same warrant requirements.

The jury found the defendant guilty. The defendant appealed, challenging the judge’s suppression ruling and another issue. But the Court of Appeals overruled both objections and said the defendant’s conviction should stand. The appeals court noted that the trial judge’s decision to admit the urine test were not clearly “erroneous.”

Taking Intoxicated Manslaughter Charges Seriously

Indeed, more than 10 years ago the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in a similar case that prosecutors could subpoena the results a defendant’s blood test performed by medical personnel without violating the exclusionary rule. As long as the state did not order the warrantless search, it was essentially fair game, as there is no “reasonable expectation of privacy” in a person’s medical records.

Cases like these illustrate the critical importance of working with a qualified Houston intoxicated manslaughter lawyer. While the law affords law enforcement wide discretion in gathering evidence, there are certain lines that cannot be crossed. At the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates, we are prepared to challenge any illegally obtained evidence and ensure you are not unfairly convicted of a serious felony. Call us today at 281-280-0100 if you are in trouble and need to schedule a consultation right away.