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Dinkins v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Fifth District

August 22, 2019



          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Seminole County, Debra S. Nelson, Judge.

          William R. Ponall, of Ponall Law, Maitland, and Matthews R. Bark, of Matthews R. Bark, P.A., Altamonte Springs, for Appellant.

          Ashley Moody, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Kristen L. Davenport, Assistant Attorney General, Daytona Beach, for Appellee.

          LAMBERT, J.

         Terry Dinkins appeals his convictions, following trial, on two counts of DUI manslaughter, in violation of section 316.193(3)(c)3.a., Florida Statutes (2014). Dinkins primarily argues that he is entitled to a new trial because the trial court erred in admitting his blood-alcohol test results into evidence when they had initially been obtained by the State in violation of his constitutional right of privacy. While we agree that the "constable blundered"[1] by subpoenaing and obtaining Dinkins's medical records without providing him with notice, for the following reasons, we nevertheless affirm his convictions and sentences.

         In the early morning hours of February 28, 2015, Dinkins drove his car the wrong way down a major thoroughfare in Seminole County, Florida, crashing into an oncoming vehicle and causing the deaths of the driver and passenger in that car. Dinkins, who by his own admission at the crash site "had had a lot [of alcohol]," was transported to Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital to be treated for injuries that he had just sustained. Shortly after his arrival at the hospital, Dinkins's blood was drawn and tested for its alcohol content.

         Approximately one month later, an officer from the Casselberry Police Department tasked with investigating the case caused a subpoena to be issued on the hospital's records custodian to obtain a copy of Dinkins's medical records generated from his stay there. The subpoena was served, and Dinkins's medical records were provided to the police department, all without notice to Dinkins. The lab test results contained within these medical records would show that Dinkins's blood-alcohol level was approximately three times the legal limit for a driver operating a motor vehicle in this state. The acquisition of these medical records and the subsequent admissibility of the blood-alcohol test results at trial are the focus of this appeal.

         Not long after obtaining the medical records, the State filed an information charging Dinkins with two counts of DUI manslaughter. The State specifically alleged that on or about February 28, 2015, Dinkins drove a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol to the extent that his normal faculties were impaired, or while having a blood-alcohol level of .08 or more grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood, and, as a result, caused the death of the two individuals identified in the information.

         Six days after filing the information, the State presented a Seminole County judge with a proposed search warrant, together with a sworn affidavit, requesting authority to search and seize from the Records Department of the Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital the "medical records, medical questionnaires, receipts, medical insurance forms, nurses' notes, physicians' notes, and laboratory tests and results, in written or computerized form," regarding Dinkins's medical treatment starting on February 28, 2015, and continuing until his discharge. The State did not mention in its affidavit that the medical records had been previously subpoenaed, nor did it rely upon information contained in those records in its affidavit. Instead, based on the other facts detailed in the affidavit regarding the circumstances surrounding the crash and Dinkins's alcohol-related impairment at the time, the judge issued the search warrant, finding probable cause to believe that evidence relevant to prove the charged DUI manslaughter offenses was located at this hospital. The warrant was executed two days later, and the same medical records previously subpoenaed by the investigating officer were seized by the State.

         The blood-alcohol lab test records became a significant topic leading up to and during the trial. The test results survived two separate pretrial motions to suppress, were admitted into evidence at trial, and were featured in the State's presentation of its case to the jury. As previously indicated, Dinkins was convicted, as charged, of the two counts of DUI manslaughter, and he received the maximum prison sentence that could have been imposed.

         Dinkins raises three grounds for relief in this appeal, which we will address in order. His first argument is that the trial court erred in denying his first motion to suppress his medical records and thereafter allowing his blood-alcohol lab test results into evidence at trial because they were obtained by law enforcement without notice to him, in violation of his constitutional right of privacy.[2] See State v. Johnson, 814 So.2d 390, 393 (Fla. 2002) ("A patient's medical records enjoy a confidential status by virtue of the right to privacy contained in the Florida Constitution, and any attempt on the part of the government to obtain such records must first meet constitutional muster."). Section 395.3025(4), Florida Statutes (2014), also provides that a patient's medical records are confidential and must not be disclosed without the consent of the patient or his or her legal representative.[3] There are, however, exceptions contained within this statute that would allow for the disclosure of a patient's medical records without his or her consent. Pertinent here, section 395.3025(4)(d) permits release of the records without consent

[i]n any civil or criminal action, unless otherwise prohibited by law, upon the issuance of a subpoena from a court of competent jurisdiction and proper notice by the party seeking such records to the patient or his or her legal representative.

         Dinkins did not consent to the release of his medical records; nor, as indicated, was he given notice prior to his records being subpoenaed. Relying on Johnson and this court's opinion in Frank v. State, 912 So.2d 329 (Fla. 5th DCA 2005), Dinkins argued below that when the State, or its agents, makes no effort to comply with the notice requirements of section 395.3025(4)(d), the remedy for violating his constitutional and statutory right of privacy in these records is to exclude them from use at trial. See Johnson, 814 So.2d at 394; Frank, 912 So.2d at 330-31 (reversing for a new trial based on Johnson when the trial court erred in denying defendant's motion to suppress blood-alcohol test results that were later admitted into evidence without the State having complied with the notice requirements of section 395.3025).

         The State conceded at the suppression hearing that it was not entitled to the medical records obtained through the subpoena because the investigating officer did not comply with the notice requirement of section 395.3025 when he first subpoenaed the records. Nevertheless, it argued that because Dinkins's constitutional right of privacy under article I, section 23 is not absolute, see Johnson, 814 So.2d at 393 (recognizing that a person's constitutional right of privacy in his or her medical records is not absolute and will yield to the State's compelling interest in the control and prosecution of criminal activity), his motion to suppress should still be denied because Dinkins's medical records were later separately seized under a valid search warrant issued in compliance with article I, section 12 of the Florida Constitution, see Limbaugh v. State, 887 So.2d 387, 392 (Fla. 4th DCA 2004) (citing State v. Hume, 512 So.2d 185, 188 (Fla. 1987)), rev. denied, 903 So.2d 189 (Fla. 2005).

         In Limbaugh, the State had obtained the petitioner's medical records without notice by separate search warrants. Id. at 390. Upon becoming aware that his records were seized, the petitioner filed a petition asking the trial court to quash the warrants, arguing that his constitutional right of privacy was violated by the State acquiring his medical records through the use of the search warrants without notice to him and without an adversarial hearing to address whether the warrants should have been issued. Id. at 391. The circuit court denied relief, and the petitioner sought certiorari review. Id.

         The Fourth District Court of Appeal denied the petition for writ of certiorari. Id. at 398. Addressing the petitioner's first argument, the court noted that there was nothing within the search warrant statutes[4] that precluded the State from using the warrants to seize medical records. Id. at 394-95. It also held that an individual's constitutional right of privacy is not implicated by the State's seizure of medical records under a valid warrant without prior notice or hearing. Id. at 398. The court reasoned that before a search warrant can be issued, the State must establish probable cause to the satisfaction of a judge that the records to be seized contain evidence that a felony was committed. Id. at 395. The court concluded that this probable cause threshold afforded even greater protection to an individual's right of privacy than when his or her medical records were obtained by subpoena. Id. The Fourth District Court also distinguished the supreme court's decision in Johnson, noting that the precise issue in that case was whether the exclusionary rule should prohibit the State from issuing a new subpoena for the ...

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