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People v. Hutchison

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fifth Division

November 8, 2013

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
CATHERINE HUTCHISON, Defendant-Appellant.

Held [*]

Despite defendant’s contentions that the trial court improperly admitted the hospital lab report showing her blood alcohol level as a business records exception to the hearsay rule and that the State failed to establish a sufficient chain of custody over the blood drawn from her in the hospital emergency room following an automobile accident, defendant's DUI conviction was upheld, since the evidence presented was sufficient to allow the trier of fact to infer that defendant’s reported blood alcohol level was the result of testing of the blood taken from defendant by the emergency room phlebotomist, the State met the foundational requirements for the admissibility of the report of defendant’s blood alcohol test, and the evidence was sufficient to support a finding that defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Nos. TP-081-740/741, TP-303-478/479; the Hon. Raymond Mitchell, Judge, presiding.

Michael J. Pelletier, Alan D. Goldberg, and S. Emily Hartman, all ofState Appellate Defender’s Office, of Chicago, for appellant.

Anita M. Alvarez, State’s Attorney, of Chicago (Alan J. Spellberg, AmyM. Watroba, and Yvette Loizon, Assistant State’s Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.

JUSTICE PALMER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Gordon and Justice McBride concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

PALMER JUSTICE

¶ 1 Following a bench trial, defendant Catherine Hutchison was found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI).[1] See 625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(1) (West 2008). The trial court sentenced her to 18 months of supervision. Defendant appeals, arguing that the trial court improperly admitted the results of a lab report showing her blood alcohol level as a business records exception to the hearsay rule and that the State did not prove her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because it failed establish a sufficient chain of custody over the blood drawn from defendant.

¶ 2 We note that defendant has withdrawn her appeal with respect to issues three and four, in which she claimed that admission of the report was inadmissible testimonial hearsay under the confrontation clause (three) and that the statute under which the report was admitted is unconstitutional as applied to defendant (four). For both of these issues, defendant requested a new trial as relief and defendant has withdrawn these issues because she claims that she has served her sentence and that appearing for a new trial would be "difficult" due to her physical disabilities. As to her claim that the trial court improperly admitted the results of a lab report showing her blood alcohol level as a business records exception to the hearsay rule, defendant has withdrawn her request for the alternative remedy of a new trial. Defendant maintains her appeal with respect to issues one and two in which she requested the remedy of outright reversal.

¶ 3 BACKGROUND

¶ 4 On the morning of April 10, 2008, two vehicles were involved in a collision in Chicago, Illinois. Michele Fischler, a paramedic for the Chicago fire department, responded to the scene of the accident. Fischler attended to defendant in her vehicle and discovered that she was responsive and breathing but that her legs were trapped under the vehicle's dashboard. Defendant was ultimately extracted from the vehicle, put in an ambulance and taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center (Christ Hospital). Fischler examined defendant on the way to the hospital and discovered that she had an open femur fracture. There was a heavy odor of alcohol emanating from defendant, and while Fischler was examining defendant, she discovered two bottles of alcohol inside defendant's coat. Fischler did not examine the bottles to determine if they were open. Fischler testified that in her experience as a paramedic and a bartender, defendant was under the influence of alcohol when she was pulled from the car accident.

¶ 5 Licensed practical nurse and phlebotomist Darlene Parker Little testified that she was working in the trauma room at Christ Hospital on the morning of April 10, 2008, when defendant was brought into the hospital by paramedics after a major motor vehicle accident. As to defendant's general condition at the time she was brought in, Parker Little described defendant as being "loud, " "using profanity, " "fighting" and "very disorientated." Parker Little was close to defendant and could smell alcohol on her breath. Parker Little's responsibility was to draw the "initial labs" from defendant, noting that the labs were "very important" as the defendant had a serious leg injury. Parker Little noted that the defendant had not been given any medications at the time of the blood draw.

¶ 6 Parker Little testified that "the trauma labs" were standard protocol and that "we draw for all traumas regardless of what kind of trauma you are in." She confirmed that it is the hospital's regular practice to draw blood from motor vehicle accident victims and that tests on that blood are ordered pursuant to providing emergency room treatment. Describing the protocol for drawing blood, Parker Little testified that she prepped the skin with the standard alcohol-free disinfectant used by Christ Hospital. After drawing the blood, she "check[ed] the ID band, of course, that's the first thing you always do" and labeled the blood "at the scene" with the defendant's "MR Number."

¶ 7 Parker Little further testified that a second nurse "must be present while [Parker Little was] drawing the blood" in order to confirm that it was "the correct patient and that everything was done correctly." She explained that "[e]very patient that comes in as a trauma is a Doe because we don't know who they are and they are given an MR Number." While Parker Little could not remember the exact "MR Number" with which she labeled the blood, she stated that the second nurse "initialed the blood and also verified it was the correct patient" against the defendant's identification band and that the Christ Hospital lab will not accept the blood unless this protocol was followed.

¶ 8 Parker Little testified that she then sent it "down to the [Christ Hospital] lab immediately" via the hospital tube system, similar to a bank drive-through. She indicated that Christ Hospital's lab is "the only lab we use, " and that it was within the hospital. Parker Little stated that she was not present when the blood was opened and did not see it again after sending it to the lab. Parker Little testified that she took the blood around 3:30 a.m. and that she was not instructed by law enforcement personnel to draw defendant's blood.

¶ 9 Over defendant's repeated objections, the trial court allowed Parker Little to view a computer printout from Christ Hospital showing defendant's "Alcohol, Serum" level to be "188 mg/dL." Later expert testimony at trial established that defendant's whole blood alcohol concentration was "0.159 g/dL." When asked if "these labs [are] kept in the ordinary business records, " Parker Little responded "[y]es, they are kept in the patient's file" on the hospital's computer system. Defendant objected to this statement claiming a lack of foundation. While Parker Little had worked for Christ Hospital for 12 years, she further testified that she did not know how the lab obtains the results, that she did not know the person who worked in the lab and that she did not know who maintains the computer system. However, she mentioned that Christ Hospital does not use paper charting. Parker Little also agreed that the report shown in court "fairly and accurately depict[ed] the results of the lab that [Parker Little] viewed after the blood was drawn."

ΒΆ 10 Further testimony indicated that Parker Little took two total blood draws from defendant that morning, that the referenced lab results in her testimony were from the trauma labs, and that she never saw the results from the police DUI kit. This court notes that ...


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