On December 15, 2020, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that a physician’s admissions made to an Ohio Medical Board investigator can be used against the physician in his criminal trial.
In 2017, three patients accused Dr. James Gideon of inappropriate touching during office visits. Gideon told Bluffton police he did not inappropriately touch any patients. Subsequently, however, an Ohio Medical Board investigator made an unannounced visit to Gideon’s office. Gideon, who was aware of the Ohio Medical Board legal requirement to cooperate with and provide truthful answers to the investigator, admitted to “touching certain areas on the patients and succumbing to temptation”. The investigator provided these admission to Bluffton police.
Gideon was charged with three misdemeanor counts of sexual imposition. At trial, he argued that the statements he made to the investigator should be suppressed based on the Fifth Amendment protection from being forced to incriminate himself.
The trial court did not suppress Gideon’s incriminating statements because it found that Gideon voluntarily made the statements to the investigator. Gideon was found guilty in all three cases and was sentenced to 180 days in jail.
On appeal, the appeals court ruled that the trial court should have suppressed the incriminating statements because his statements were not voluntary.
Upon review, the Ohio Supreme Court reviewed that the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution includes the right to remain silent where a person’s replies might be used against the person in future criminal proceedings.
The Ohio Supreme Court held that, in order to determine that Gideon’s statements were coerced in violation of his Fifth Amendment rights, Gideon had to demonstrate that (i) he subjectively believed that failure to cooperate with the investigator would lead to the loss of his license, and (ii) his belief that he was being threatened was objectionably reasonable by providing some evidence of pressure beyond merely directing him to cooperate in the investigation. The Ohio Supreme Court found that Gideon’s belief that he was being threatened was not objectively reasonable under the facts and circumstances of the investigation.
Health care and other professional licensees in Ohio must be aware that information provided to an investigator – whether that is an investigator employed by the Medical Board, Nursing Board, Pharmacy Board, or any other board or agency – can be used against the licensee in a disciplinary action and in a criminal proceeding. Legal counsel is recommended for any licensee in connection with any Board investigation or disciplinary action.