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Can the police obtain my private medical or hospital records following an OWI arrest?

By Daniel T. Geherin

For many people, a drunk driving arrest occurs after they’re pulled over for a “routine” traffic offense like speeding or weaving. Others, regrettably, might be involved in a traffic accident after drinking alcohol. For these people, the consequences are often more severe—especially if other cars or pedestrians are involved, or if someone is badly injured or killed.  

Those who are involved in OWI accidents face heightened sanctions, and often have many questions and fears related to their arrest and privacy rights:

  • “Are the police allowed access to my hospital or medical records?”
  • “Don’t the police need a warrant to access those records?”
  • “Aren’t my medical records private?"
  • “Can these results be used as evidence against me?”

Under Michigan law, and M.C.L. § 257.625a(9), a police officer may arrest an individual involved in a drunk driving accident without a warrant if the officer has reasonable cause to believe that the individual was the operator of the vehicle at the time of the accident. 

This statute was challenged in the seminal case, People v. Perlos. In Perlos, defendants, who were drivers involved in car accidents, were taken to the hospital after an accident where their blood was drawn for medical purposes. The results of their blood tests were later used as evidence against them. One of the defendants was even semi-unconscious at the time the blood was taken; the police didn’t use a search warrant to obtain the results, nor did the defendants consent to having the results released.

The Michigan Supreme Court held that police have the authority to submit a request to the hospital for blood, breath, and urine test results without getting a search warrant. If there was an accident, and the driver was taken to a medical facility, medical personnel must order analysis on their own initiative and for medical treatment. The medical facility must conduct the blood, breath, or urine test for medical use. For example, the doctor may draw blood for an alcohol analysis to determine how much or what kind of medicine to give an individual. The court also held that M.C.L. § 257.625 doesn’t violate the state or federal equal protection or search and seizure provisions. These requests have come to be known as “Perlos requests” by those in the criminal justice system.  

If you or a loved one has been arrested for a drunk driving offense that caused an accident, you’ll almost certainly find yourself in need of legal help. If you believe that your private medical records or a blood test may contain evidence against you or are wondering if there has been an improper disclosure of these medical records, then you should contact an attorney as soon as possible. The earlier you contact a drunk driving attorney in Ann Arbor, the better your chances of avoiding arrest or successfully defending yourself in court.

The Geherin Law Group (GLG Michigan) is a Criminal Justice law firm based in Ann Arbor that defends hundreds of OWI cases each year throughout Southeastern Michigan. Dan Geherin, the firm’s principal owner, is a former prosecutor and board-certified criminal trial attorney with over 25+ years’ experience defending and winning OWI/DUI cases in Washtenaw and surrounding counties.  GLG has fought and won many suppression issues involving Perlos requests and the seizure of a client’s medical records in courts throughout Michigan.  

Dan and his team at GLG Michigan are available 24/7 at (734) 263-2780 or online