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Jason Howard

HIPAA Medical Record Search Warrant DWI

HIPAA Does Not Bar Admissibility of Private Medical Records in Criminal Case

By | DWI, Evidence

Does HIPAA Impact Fourth Amendment Standing When the State Obtains Medical Records in a Criminal Investigation?

HIPAA Medical Record Search Warrant DWIWe’ve all signed the “HIPAA” privacy statements at the doctor’s office before treatment. The HIPAA Privacy Rule mandates nationwide standards to protect our medical records and personal health information by establishing safeguards, such as disclosure rules, patient authorization, and uniform protocols for the electronic transmission of medical data. HIPAA also grants patients the right to their own health information, but what about others? Does HIPAA prohibit the release of health information in a criminal investigation? What if that information is obtained via a grand jury subpoena?

State v. Huse (Tex. Crim. App. 2016)

One Month After Car Accident, Man is Charged with DWI

On February 13, 2010, Hayden Huse ran off the road and crashed into a cotton field at two in the morning. When law enforcement responded to the scene, they smelled alcohol on Huse’s breath. Instead of giving him a sobriety test, they transported him to the local hospital for injuries he sustained. During the medical exam, the hospital ran routine blood work. A few hours later during an interview with law enforcement, Huse admitted that he consumed six or seven alcoholic drinks the previous evening. However, he refused law enforcement’s request for a breath or blood specimen for blood alcohol analysis.

One month later, based upon the police report taken of Huse’s car accident, a Lubbock County Assistant District Attorney filed an application for a grand jury subpoena to obtain Huse’s medical records from the hospital, even though no grand jury had been investigating Huse. The hospital complied with the subpoena, providing Huse’s medical records, along with a business records affidavit. The records revealed that approximately two hours after the car accident, Huse’s blood alcohol concentration was .219—an amount well above the legal limit.

Huse Files a Motion to Suppress the Evidence

Huse filed a motion to suppress the records at a suppression hearing. The trial court granted his motion to suppress on the grounds that the records were obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment and that the Assistant District Attorney misused the grand jury subpoena process. The State appealed to the Seventh Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial court’s suppression order because “[Huse] lacked standing to raise a Fourth Amendment challenge…and [because] the State did not acquire [Huse’s] medical records through an unlawful grand jury subpoena.” State v. Huse, No. 07-12-00383-CR, 2014 WL 931265 (Tex. App.—Amarillo Mar. 6, 2014). Huse filed a petition to the Court of Criminal Appeals for a discretionary review of his case.

The Two Big Issues for The Court of Criminal Appeals

The Court of Criminal Appeals set out to determine whether the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”) impacts Fourth Amendment standing when the State obtains medical records in a criminal matter, and, whether the State acquired Huse’s records via a grand jury subpoena that potentially violated HIPAA.

The Fourth Amendment and Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

Under the Fourth Amendment, “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” U.S. CONST. amend. IV. “The provision protects people, not places.” Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 351 (1967). In order to raise a Fourth Amendment claim, a person must have legal standing, that may be “predicated on…a reasonable expectation of privacy principle.” United States v. Jones, 132 S.Ct. 945 (2012); Florida v. Jardines, 133 S.Ct. 1409 (2013).

State v. Hardy: The Precedent Case for the CCA

In Hardy, the CCA recognized that when the State itself extracts blood from a DWI suspect, and then subsequently conducts a blood alcohol analysis, then two “discrete searches” have occurred for a Fourth Amendment analysis. State v. Hardy, 963 S.W.2d 516 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997). The State neither extracted the sample nor conducted the blood alcohol analysis. As a result, the CCA concluded that the “Fourth Amendment does not apply to a search or seizure, even an arbitrary one, effected by a private party on its own initiative.” Skinner v. Railway Labor Exec. Assn., U.S. 602, 624 (1989). Further, “society [does not] recognize a reasonable expectation of privacy in privately-generated and maintained medical records that would show the result of a blood alcohol analysis [in a DWI investigation].” Hardy, 963 S.W.2d at 525-27.

The CCA Decides Whether HIPAA Trumps the Holding In Hardy?

Here, the CCA says that the State neither extracted nor analyzed Huse’s blood sample—the third-party hospital did. Huse, therefore, has no Fourth Amendment standing because he had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his privately-generated and maintained medical records. Further, “whatever interests society may have in safeguarding the privacy of medical records, [such interests] are not strong to require protection of blood-alcohol test results taken by hospital personnel solely for medical purposes after a traffic accident.” Id. But what about HIPAA? Does HIPAA trump the holding in Hardy?

The CCA explains that while HIPAA “might support a broader claim that society recognizes that patients have a legitimate expectation of privacy in their own medical records, generally, HIPAA does not undercut the Court’s holding in Hardy.” Further, the CCA states, “HIPAA expressly permits the disclosure of otherwise protected health information when it is sought by grand jury subpoena.”

In sum, Huse had no expectation of privacy in third-party generated and maintained medical records for a Fourth Amendment claim, and, no provisions in HIPAA specifically deny the disclosure of health information in the event of a criminal investigation. The CCA affirms the judgment Seventh Court of Appeals that Huse’s medical records shall not be suppressed.

Difference in Deferred Adjudication Straight Probation in Texas

What is the Difference Between Deferred Adjudication and Straight Probation?

By | Criminal Defense

Probation in Texas: Make Sure You are Headed Down the Right Path. What is Deferred Adjudication?

Difference in Deferred Adjudication Straight Probation in TexasWhen we are counseling new clients, we routinely address the punishment range that is available for the charged offense and whether probation is an option in their case.  It is important to note that all criminal offenses (except class C citations) are punishable by incarceration. However, first-time offenders and those charged with misdemeanors and non-aggravated felonies will often receive probation when prosecutors, judges, and juries agree that community supervision (probation) is a better alternative to jail time in the given situation.  For some offenses, however, probation is not an option (see our previous article on 3g offenses in Texas).

For those of you that prefer the bullet points up front, here is the short answer regarding the difference between straight probation and deferred adjudication:

Straight Probation in Texas

  • A person on Straight Probation in Texas must report to probation and complete required terms as set by the judge
  • In a straight probation, the case results in a Criminal Conviction
  • In straight probation, there is no option have the case expunged or non-disclosed upon completion of probation
  • If revoked on a straight probation, the penalty range is limited to the underlying jail term (see more below).

Deferred Adjudication in Texas

  • A person on Deferred Adjudication in Texas must report to probation and complete required terms as set by the judge
  • A Deferred Adjudication Case Does NOT result in a Criminal Conviction
  • In a Deferred Adjudication in Texas, there is an option to have the case non-disclosed upon completion (in most cases)
  • Under a Deferred Adjudication, If revoked, the judge may sentence anywhere in the full punishment range for the offense.

Deferred Adjudication vs. Straight Probation

In Texas, there are two types of community supervision in criminal cases: regular community supervision (or what is typically referred to as “straight probation”) and deferred adjudication (or “deferred probation.”) The difference between them is significant.  Chapter 42.12 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure covers with both types of probation in Texas.

Straight Probation in Texas

Let’s discuss straight probation first. As an example, assume someone is facing a charge for a Class A Misdemeanor. The penalty range is 0-365 days in jail. A straight probation offer from the state might look like this:

180 days in jail probated for 12 months.

If you agree to this offer and decide to take it, at the time of the plea the judge would ask for your plea of guilty, find you guilty and assess punishment at 180 days in jail. However, he would not require you to actually serve the jail time. Rather, he would probate the jail time and place you on community supervision for a period of 12 months. If you successfully complete the straight probation by reporting as directed and abiding by the terms and conditions, you would not be required to serve jail time for the conviction.

Straight Probation Comes With a Criminal Conviction

With straight probation, the most significant consequence is the conviction itself. When you plead guilty, the judge finds you guilty and a conviction is rendered. You avoid jail time by the sentence being probated, but the conviction remains on your record. A conviction, even if probation, can never be expunged from your record (regardless of the passage of time), so it is important to be wise with your decision to take a plea agreement in which straight probation is offered.

If you receive straight probation and fail to comply with the terms and conditions, the state can seek to have your probation revoked. At a revocation hearing or sentencing, the judge’s sentencing ability is limited by the underlying sentence received at the time of your original plea. So, in the above example, if you received a sentence for 180 days in jail probated for 12 months and are later revoked, the judge cannot sentence you beyond the 180 days (even though the penalty range for a class A misdemeanor is up to 365 days.)

Deferred Adjudication in Texas

Chapter 42.12 section 5 offers a different type of probation than the straight probation discussed above. It’s called deferred adjudication. Let’s go back to our example and say your facing a Class A Misdemeanor with a penalty range of 0-365 days. A deferred adjudication offer might look like this:

18 months probation

If you agree to this offer, you would plead guilty at the time of the plea. However, the judge would withhold finding you guilty and instead place you on probation for a period of 18 months. The reporting and terms and conditions would mirror those of a straight probation. If you successfully complete the probation and are discharged, you would not be required to serve jail time and you would not receive a criminal conviction.

Deferred Adjudication Does Not Come With a Criminal Conviction

With deferred adjudication, the most significant benefit is the case is dismissed upon discharge and no conviction rendered. You not only avoid jail time, but a conviction as well. You also may be eligible to file for a non-disclosure after discharge in most cases. Section 411.081 of the Texas Government Code is the law covering when and if you can file for a non-disclosure after discharge from deferred adjudication.

As with straight probation, if you receive deferred adjudication and fail to comply with the terms and conditions, the state can seek to have your probation revoked. However, there are some significant distinctions at a revocation hearing or sentencing on a deferred adjudication case. First, the judge’s sentencing ability is unlimited. This means he can use the entire penalty range. In our example, if you receive deferred adjudication for 18 months for a class A misdemeanor and are later revoked, the judge can sentence you anywhere in the penalty range of 0- 365 days. Also and more importantly, if revoked, the judge will find you guilty resulting in a conviction.

Contact Our Fort Worth Criminal Defense Firm if You Have Questions About Deferred Adjudication or Straight Probation in Texas

This was a rough overview of the different types of probation in Texas on criminal cases. Of course, there are always factors that can effect if and which type of probation is available as an option to you. The attorneys at Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC would be glad to discuss your situation and provide more information about these options. Please feel free to give us a call at (817) 993-9249.

→ DWI offenses are not eligible for deferred adjudication in Texas. If you’d like to see that changed, contact your state representatives’ offices and voice your opinion

12.44(a) and 12.44(b) State Jail Felony Reduction

Explaining Section 12.44 | Felony Reduced to Misdemeanor

By | Sentencing

What is Section 12.44(a) and Why Does it Matter to the State Jail Felony Defendant?

1244(a) and 1244(b) State Jail Felony Reduction Our Fort Worth criminal defense attorneys are routinely asked by family and friends of clients charged with State Jail Felony offenses about 12.44(a) and 12.44(b). Although it is sometimes elusive, our attorneys have had success in reducing State Jail Felony cases under Section 12.44. This article will discuss Sections 12.44(a) and 12.44(b) of the Texas Penal Code and explain why they are important to the State Jail Felony defendant.

State Jail Felony Punishment in Texas

In accordance with Section 12.35 of the Texas Penal Code, the confinement range for a State Jail Felony in Texas:

  • From 180 days to 2 years in a State Jail facility.

Any resulting conviction under Section 12.35 is considered a felony conviction for most purposes.

When a person is sentenced to confinement for a State Jail Felony offense, the sentence is served day for day. Aside from State Jail Diligent Participation Credit, a state jail sentence will last for every single day of the term, unlike a prison sentence, which may be cut short for parole or good time. For example, if someone receives a sentence for 12 months in state jail, that person will serve 365 actual days on the sentence.

What about 12.44?

Since parole and good time are not options for state jail time, Section 12.35 requires the defendant to serve that sentence day for day. However, section 12.44 of the Texas Penal Code allows for a reduction of the above consequences for someone charged with a state jail felony.

(a) A court may punish a defendant who is convicted of a state jail felony by imposing the confinement permissible as punishment for a Class A misdemeanor if, after considering the gravity and circumstances of the felony committed and the history, character, and rehabilitative needs of the defendant, the court finds that such punishment would best serve the ends of justice.
(b) At the request of the prosecuting attorney, the court may authorize the prosecuting attorney to prosecute a state jail felony as a Class A misdemeanor.

Please note section 12.44 has two subsections. The differences between them are significant.

What is the Difference Between 12.44(a) and 12.44(b)?


Under 12.44(a), at the discretion of the court, a state jail felony can be punished as a Class A misdemeanor. If convicted, the conviction results in a felony conviction. However, if sentenced to confinement, the defendant is allowed to serve time the same as if he were convicted of a Class A misdemeanor. That means the defendant can serve his time in the local county jail as opposed to a State Jail facility. That also may allow the defendant to have access to good time offered by the county jail in his jurisdiction (e.g. In Tarrant County, this could result in 2 for 1 credit or 3 for 1 if the defendant is a trustee).


Under 12.44(b), at the discretion of the prosecutor, a state jail felony can be converted to a Class A misdemeanor. If convicted, the conviction results in a misdemeanor conviction. If incarcerated, the defendant would serve his time in the county jail the same as described in the above paragraph.
Note: Both 12.44(a) and (b) require the sentence to be within the penalty range of a Class A misdemeanor (0-365 days confinement and a fine, if any, not to exceed $4,000).

Probation Under 12.44

Straight Probation and Deferred Adjudication probation are also allowed under both 12.44(a) and 12.44(b). Straight probation would result in a conviction for a felony if reduced under 12.44(a) and a conviction for a misdemeanor if reduced under 12.44(b). If you receive deferred adjudication probation under either a 12.44(a) or 12.44(b) reduction, a conviction can be avoided altogether if the probation is successfully completed. Any future probation revocation proceedings by the state would be limited at sentencing to the misdemeanor punishment provided by section 12.44 as discussed in the paragraphs above.

Note: A probated sentence under 12.44 cannot exceed 2 years – the maximum time allowed for a probated sentence for a Class A misdemeanor.

State Jail Felony Defense Attorneys, Fort Worth, Texas

Depending on the circumstances, if you or someone you know is charged with a state jail felony in Texas, Section 12.44 may be applicable. There are many factors that the prosecutor or judge will consider if your attorney requests a 12.44 reduction. It is important to discuss your specific circumstances with your attorney. Please feel free to contact Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC if you have questions.

Fort Worth Grand Jury Attorneys

The Big Needed Change To Grand Jury Selection

By | Grand Jury

Fort Worth Grand Jury AttorneysYears ago, I was employed as an assistant district attorney in a DA’s office out in West Texas. From time to time, I would oversee the grand jury and the presentation of felony cases for indictment. At the first of every month, the county would summon potential jurors from a random selection process to serve on the grand jury. The first fourteen (twelve to serve as grand jurors and two as alternates) who were not disqualified by statute were seated on the grand jury.

Those fourteen citizens were always different. Different ethnicity. Different gender. Different religions. Different socio-economic status. Most importantly, different political parties. The goal was to create an impartial jury of peers to review the evidence in criminal cases and determine whether probable cause existed for indictment.

You can imagine my surprise when I moved to the DFW area and discovered jurisdictions here which used the other method of selecting grand jurors.

Article 19.01 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure allows the “pick a pal” method wherein judges can hand pick “jury commissioners” who individually select citizens to serve on the grand jury. As you can imagine, there has been a serious influence of politics on the grand jury process a result of this practice. It’s hard to have an impartial grand jury when everybody comes from the same political party and economic sector of society.

Fortunately, House Bill 2150 was signed into law last month. On September 1, 2015, the “pick a pal” process will no longer be an option. Instead, the newly revised Article 19.01 will require all jurisdictions to apply the random selection process to the grand jury selection process.

This change is long overdue. An accused’s right to an impartial jury should be the same at the grand jury as it is at trial.