In a case that’s been ongoing since 2011, the State of Florida is prosecuting Dr. William Crumbley for allegedly running a non licensed pain management clinic, a third degree felony. The State alleges that Dr. Crumbley wrote over 14,000 prescriptions for pain pills in a three year span. Dr. Crumbley was previously barred by Medicaid for writing too many perscriptions, however, refused a settlement agreement to stop writing prescriptions.
In order to prosecute Dr. Crumbley, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office sent undercover officers into his clinic to obtain prescriptions for pain pills. They also ran surveillance in the parking lot. After this work, they applied to a judge for a search warrant of Dr. Crumbley’s office to include patient medical records. What if those were your records? You might be thinking that those medical records are covered by privacy laws such as HIPAA. Not so, according to the Second District Court of Appeal.
After the sheriff obtained the medical records of some 855 patients of Dr. Crumbley’s, they allegedly sealed those records, but allowed the State Attorney’s Office access to them, and told the patients that their medical records would be reviewed by Federal, State, and local authorities for evidence of criminal activity. The State Attorney, then wrote letters to each of those patients, basically saying they were in possession of their confidential patient medical records and those medical records may be used to criminally prosecute the doctor or the patient themselves if it was alleged that “these documents might include evidence of criminal Evidence of such criminal .activity may be contained in your file and you could be a potential witness or possible target of the criminal investigation.” [that isn't my typo, I cut and pasted that directly from the 2DCA order] The patients were then notified of a hearing before a judge on April 30, 2012 and could attend if they had an objection to the use of their medical records. Needless to say only two of the 855 attended. During that hearing, the circuit judge (not the one who issued the original warrant) recused herself and asked that the case be sent back to the circuit judge who issued the warrant. Interestingly, the case wasn’t sent to that judge, but to another circuit judge, The Honorable Linda Babb. Judge Babb has been a Circuit Court Judge in Dade City for over 12 years and has practiced law for more than 25. (she’s currently up for reelection and unopposed) The Second DCA overruled her ruling.
Judge Babb, I believe correctly, but perhaps without the enough legal authority, ordered the State and the Sheriff to seal all of the patient medical records. Her reasoning was that the Sheriff could not use the records to prosecute patients, since those records had not been seized with probable cause as to individual people. That is, the police had no probable cause to get those individual patient records, so therefore they couldn’t now piggyback on the prosecution of Dr. Crumbley to prosecute otherwise innocent people. But unfortunately for those patients – the Second DCA says they can. And the ruling is convoluted at best. The Court basically says that the police could have gotten the medical records pursuant to a subpoena in an open criminal case (but there wasn’t one) or through a search warrant (if they had probable cause for the individual patients – which they didn’t), since the Florida Statute which covers privacy of medical records doesn’t specifically say they can’t. The Court goes further to conclude that if any of the individual patients are ultimately prosecuted as a result of what was found in those medical records – THEN those individuals could file a Motion to Suppress the evidence. But anyone who practices criminal law KNOWS that the police would NEVER admit they began an invisitgation into a potential suspect by revealing they looked at those medical records. Especially any drug deputy in the Pasco Sheriff’s Office.
If you were a patient of Dr. Crumbley’s and are now being prosecuted for a drug crime – Call me. (if you are not currently represented) We offer free consultations and I would be very interested in the facts of your case.