Judge Worries New Federal Law Could Cause Problems In Prosecuting DUI Cases

By Tony Hyatt

(LOUISVILLE, April 29th, 2003, 5:30 p.m.) -- On April 14th, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act went into effect. It is designed to protect the medical records of patients in hospitals. But one local judge is concerned about the impact the new law might have on DUI cases.

"We haven't come up with an answer yet as to how it is going to play out," said Chief Judge Donald Armstrong of Jefferson District Court.

Under HIPAA, a patient has to be notified when either the courts, police or an attorney seeks medical records. And there is a concern a new loophole may have been created when it comes to toxicology tests for DUI.

The situation could happen if drunk driving is the cause of an accident in Jefferson County.

Armstrong is concerned if a police officer suspects a driver is drunk, he could ask for sobriety tests. If the driver was injured, he or she could refuse, and would then be taken to a hospital. From that moment on, the officer would need a court order signed by a judge to get the treatment results if the driver refused tests.

"There are a lot of cases in Jefferson County that start with an accident and if a person is injured, yes, I can for see that it is going to be a problem and will involve a lot of hearings," Armstrong told WAVE 3 News. "We really have not come up with an answer as to a proper procedure for the court order."

"It has changed the way we do business," says Jefferson County Attorney Irv Maze. "There are several more hoops that we have to jump through."

But Maze, who has made DUI cases a priority, says he will do whatever it takes to prosecute. He believes there will be attorneys that may use the law to drag out the process.

"If they think here is one more loophole that they can crawl through I'm under no illusions," Maze says. "I will expect we will be challenged, but we are ready for the challenge."

Judge Armstrong says he is still trying to come up with an effective way to satisfy the needs of the new federal law while at the same time take care of DUI cases. Currently, the Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled medical test results can be used as evidence in prosecuting drunk driving.

Online Reporter: Tony Hyatt

Online Producer: Michael Dever