The relationship between law enforcement and emergency medical technicians is a close one, in many cases, as both professions serve the public in a similar way. First responders, whether they are police, firefighters or EMTs, work collaboratively to serve the public, and although they are bound by certain privacy limitations, they do share pertinent information.
An EMT is not legally bound to tell police anything, but the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA) act does not restrict his ability to report criminal activity to police.
HIPAA regulations allow healthcare providers, including EMTs to share information with necessary business associates, and this can include police. While HIPAA may protect personal health information like blood tests, an EMTs observations are public, and if they respond first to the scene of an accident and suspect that the victim is under the influence of alcohol, they can inform the police of their opinion.
What about tests?
If you are in a serious accident and are taken to the hospital, any tests performed either en route or in the hospital are covered under HIPAA regulations and cannot be released to the police. If there is other evidence that you were driving under the influence, however, law enforcement can subpoena any blood tests from the hospital to see if you were intoxicated.
EMTs as witnesses
Though it is rare, an EMT can be subpoenaed as an expert witness in a DUI case. If an EMT is the first to respond to an accident in which alcohol is involved, he may be called to testify as to the nature of the accident and the apparent level of intoxication of those involved, particularly the driver.
What does an EMT know?
Police are trained to recognize the signs of intoxication. In field sobriety tests, police officers look for subtle indications in eye movement and coordination that indicate intoxication. EMTs are similarly trained, and are therefore able to identify an intoxicated person. Anything EMTs observe at the scene of an accident can be used as evidence, and they should be respected in the same way that police officers are.
What to do when charged
If you're charged with a DUI, regardless of the circumstances, it's a good idea to consult an experienced attorney. Go over your options with someone who has experience in the courts, and be honest with those involved to expedite the process and give yourself the best chance to be treated fairly.
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Recently on our DUI forum a user asked, “I am twenty years of age. I was arrested for a California DUI. I am wondering what will happen to me now and what steps I need to take. Do I need to talk to a DUI lawyer?”