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People v. Ernst

February 16, 2000

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
V.
BRIAN E. ERNST, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of McHenry County. No. 98--DT--98 Honorable Michael T. Caldwell, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Geiger

The State appeals the November 5, 1998, order of the circuit court of McHenry County granting defendant Brian Ernst's motion to suppress evidence and quash arrest. The defendant had been arrested and charged with driving a vehicle while his blood-alcohol concentration was .08 or more (625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(1) (West 1998)). The trial court ruled that the defendant's emergency health care providers had improperly reported the defendant's blood-alcohol test results to the arresting officer in violation of the physician-patient privilege (735 ILCS 5/8--802 (West 1998)). We reverse and remand the cause for trial.

On January 31, 1998, the defendant was charged by complaint with driving a vehicle while his blood-alcohol concentration was .08 or more (625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(1) (West 1998)). On March 23, 1998, the defendant filed a motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence. In his motion, the defendant argued that the arresting officer had no probable cause to believe that he had committed an offense.

On May 8, 1998, the trial court held a hearing on the defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence. At the hearing, the defendant called Deputy William Henninger of the McHenry County sheriff's police. Deputy Henninger testified that, on January 31, 1998, at approximately 2:45 a.m., he received a call regarding a one-vehicle accident. When he arrived at the scene, he observed a Chevrolet Camaro off to the side of the road and against a tree. Lieutenant Tom Monday, who had already arrived on the scene, told him that the Camaro belonged to the defendant. Deputy Henninger observed that the defendant had facial and scalp injuries that were bleeding. An ambulance was called, and Deputy Henninger had the defendant sit in the front seat of the squad car to wait, while Deputy Henninger completed an accident report. In response to Deputy Henninger's questioning about the accident, the defendant explained that he had driven around a curb too fast and could not control the car.

Deputy Henninger testified that the defendant was in the squad car for four to five minutes. During this time, the defendant's speech was clear and coherent. Although the defendant's eyes were bloodshot and glassy, Deputy Henninger attributed this condition to the defendant's head injuries. The defendant did not smell of alcohol.

Deputy Henninger testified that the defendant was then taken by ambulance to Woodstock Memorial Medical Center. At the hospital, Deputy Henninger continued to work on his report while the defendant was behind a curtain in a treatment room. After completing the report, he gave the defendant a copy, obtained the telephone number of the defendant's parents, called them, and then advised the defendant that his parents were on their way.

Deputy Henninger testified that, later during the morning of January 31, 1998, he was advised that the hospital had called the police station and that the results of the defendant's blood-alcohol screening were available. Deputy Henninger and Lieutenant Monday returned to the hospital and received a report in an envelope from nurse Kathy Harrison. The officers were unable to decipher the results of the report, and Harrison told them that the defendant's blood-alcohol level was .254. Although Deputy Henninger did not believe that the defendant was intoxicated at the time of his accident, Lieutenant Monday directed him to arrest the defendant because the reading was over .08.

After the defendant indicated that he had no further evidence to introduce on his motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence, the State moved for a directed finding. The trial court granted the State's motion, finding that the blood-alcohol test results provided sufficient probable cause to support the arrest of the defendant.

On June 5, 1998, the defendant filed a motion to reconsider the trial court's ruling. In reliance upon Village of Arlington Heights v. Bartelt, 211 Ill. App. 3d 747, 750 (1991), the defendant argued that it was improper for the trial court to utilize blood-alcohol test results in determining whether the officers had probable cause to arrest. In Bartelt, the court held that, although blood-alcohol tests may be admitted at trial pursuant to section 11--501.4 of the Illinois Vehicle Code (the Code) (625 ILCS 5/11--501.4 (West 1998)), there was no specific authority permitting the use of oral statements made by medical personnel to establish probable cause. Bartelt, 211 Ill. App. 3d at 750. The defendant argued that the results of the blood tests performed on January 31, 1998, were protected under the physician-patient privilege (735 ILCS 5/8--802 (West 1998)) and that the officers needed some other independent basis to establish probable cause.

In response to the motion to reconsider, the State argued that section 11--501.4--1 of the Code (625 ILCS 5/11--501.4--1 (West 1998)) permitted the use of blood-alcohol test results to establish probable cause for arrest. The State argued that section 11--501.4--1 specifically authorized medical personnel to report the results of blood tests to the Department of State Police or local law enforcement agencies. 625 ILCS 5/11--501.4--1 (West 1998). The State argued that Bartelt was not applicable to the instant case because section 11--501.4--1 was enacted after that case was decided.

On August 25, 1998, following a hearing, the trial court granted the defendant's motion to reconsider and denied the State's motion for a directed finding. The trial court found that, although section 11--501.4--1 allowed the admission of blood-alcohol test results at trial, it did not permit the use of such evidence in probable cause hearings. The trial court therefore ruled that the enactment of section 11--501.4--1 had not overruled Bartelt and that the physician-patient privilege did not permit ex parte disclosures of blood-alcohol test results by medical personnel to the police. Rather, the trial court ruled that such evidence could only be used in prosecutions and only after such evidence had been disclosed pursuant to judicially authorized methods of discovery. See Bartelt, 211 Ill. App. 3d at 750.

On November 5, 1998, the trial court resumed the hearing on the defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence. The State presented the testimony of Kathleen Harrison, the registered nurse assigned to the emergency room on January 31, 1998. Harrison testified that she provided Deputy Henninger and Lieutenant Moody a copy of the defendant's blood-alcohol test results. When the State asked Harrison to explain the contents of the report, the trial court sustained the defendant's objection on the basis of the physician-patient privilege.

At the close of the hearing, the trial court granted the defendant's motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence. The trial court found that, although the State had shown sufficient probable cause to arrest the defendant, the defendant's blood-alcohol test results had been improperly obtained as a result of an ex parte disclosure. The trial court ruled that this was a violation of the principles articulated in Petrillo v. Syntex Laboratories, Inc., 148 Ill. App. 3d 581 (1986). The State filed a timely notice of appeal.

On appeal, the State argues that nurse Harrison's disclosure of the defendant's blood-alcohol test results was expressly permitted by section 11--501.4--1 of the Code and was not a violation of the physician-patient privilege. The State argues that medical personnel may report blood test results to law enforcement officers without prior court ...


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