On appeal from Bergen County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court whose opinion is reported at 152 N.J. Super. 519.
Matthews, Kole and Milmed. The opinion of the court was delivered by Kole, J.A.D.
M.P.C., a juvenile (hereafter "defendant"), was charged with delinquency in causing the death of another by driving a vehicle carelessly and heedlessly, in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of his passenger, the decedent. N.J.S.A. 2A:113-9, N.J.S.A. 2A:4-44(b). The Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court granted the prosecutor's motion for the release of the results of an alcohol blood level test performed on defendant at the Valley Hospital shortly after the accident in the early morning of March 5, 1977. Defendant and his mother had refused to authorize the release of the test on the ground that it would violate the patient-physician privilege provided by N.J.S.A. 2A:84A-22.1 et seq.
We granted defendant leave to appeal. The facts are amply set forth in the reported opinion of the trial court, 152 N.J. Super. 519 (1977).
We affirm, but for reasons other than those given by the court below. To the extent that State v. Amaniera , 132 N.J. Super. 597 (Cty. Ct. 1974), is contrary to our determination herein, it is disapproved.
There is the strong public policy underlying the enforcement of the drunken driving law and the blood alcohol test requirements relating thereto. See State v. Macuk , 57 N.J. 1 (1970); State v. Burns , 159 N.J. Super. 539 (App. Div. 1978). Thus, it has been stated that in drunken driving cases, notwithstanding the invalidity of an arrest, the subsequent enforced subjection of a defendant to an examination for intoxication is justified as an emergency measure to assure the State against loss of evidence of defendant's guilt of an offense which "poses an extremely grave menace to the public safety and welfare." State v. Macuk, supra , 57 N.J. at 8. It is immaterial that the blood test was performed as an incident of an invalid arrest, since it is "elementary that the alcoholic content of human blood begins to diminish after drinking stops," and where an officer has probable cause to believe a driver to be intoxicated, he is "obviously
A statutory privilege, such as that between a patient and physician, is to be construed restrictively, since its allowance obstructs the search for the truth. The privilege must be interpreted "in sensible accommodation to the aim of a just result. * * * [C]ompetency should be regarded as the rule and incompetency as the exception * * *." State v. Briley , 53 N.J. 498, 505-506 (1969). See also In re Farber (and New York Times Co. ,), 78 N.J. 259, at 301 (1978). Such a privilege is accepted only because, in the particular area concerned, it serves a more important public interest than the need for full disclosure. State v. Briley, supra.
It has been said that the purpose of the patient-physician privilege is to enable the patient to secure medical services without fear of betrayal and the unwarranted embarrassing and detrimental disclosure in court of information which might deter the patient from revealing his symptoms to the doctor to the detriment of his health. See Branch v. Wilkinson , 198 Neb. 649, 256 N.W. 2d 307, 312 (Sup. Ct. 1977); State v. Staat , 291 Minn. 394, 192 N.W. 2d 192, 195 (Sup. Ct. 1971).
With this purpose in mind, and considering the restrictive interpretation to be given to statutory privilege, we are satisfied that here and, indeed, in the usual case, the patient-physician privilege must give way where it conflicts with the sensible administration of the law and policy relating to drunken driving by persons who (1) in an appropriate fashion have been apprehended by the police with probable cause to believe that they have been driving while intoxicated, and (2) have been caused by the police to be taken to an appropriate medical facility (see State v.
Burns, supra) for the purpose, among others, of a blood ...