Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Doctor’s Admission to Medical Board Can Be Used in Criminal Case

Image of a stethoscope on a table

Court finds no fault with medical board investigator providing police with Allen County doctor’s admission that he inappropriately touched patients.

Image of a stethoscope on a table

Court finds no fault with medical board investigator providing police with Allen County doctor’s admission that he inappropriately touched patients.

A state medical board investigator did not violate the constitutional rights of an Allen County doctor by providing police with the doctor’s admission that he inappropriately touched patients, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

In a 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court reversed a Third District Court of Appeals decision, which would have barred the statements Dr. James Gideon made to a State Medical Board of Ohio investigator from being used in his 2017 trial for sexual imposition. The Third District had ruled the Lima Municipal Court improperly rejected Gideon’s attempt to suppress the statement.

Writing for the Court majority, Justice Melody J. Stewart stated that a doctor’s rights under the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment would be violated if a medical board threatened the loss of a license if a doctor refused to answer an investigator’s questions. But in Gideon’s case, he was not threatened with any punishment by the medical board when he admitted to misconduct, Justice Stewart wrote.

The decision affirmed Gideon’s municipal court conviction.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Sharon L. Kennedy, Judith L. French, Patrick F. Fischer, and R. Patrick DeWine joined Justice Stewart’s opinion.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Michael P. Donnelly wrote the Third District issued a well-reasoned opinion showing that investigator Chad Yoakam was acting as a “straw man” for the Bluffton Police Department and coerced Gideon into making self-incriminating statements. Yoakam testified that he wanted to “bootstrap” his administrative investigation to the police investigation because it was easier to sanction a doctor who had a criminal conviction.

Doctor Admits to Allegations
Gideon maintained a rheumatology practice in Bluffton. In 2017, three of his patients accused him of inappropriately touching them during office visits. Bluffton police and the medical board each opened investigations. Gideon told the police he did not inappropriately touch any patients.

Yoakam made an unannounced visit to Gideon’s office and asked him if he could “chat.” Gideon declined Yoakam’s offer to reschedule the interview, and Yoakam agreed to pauses in the conversation so that Gideon could continue to see waiting patients.

Testimony in the case revealed that Gideon began explaining his techniques with his patients prior to any substantive questions from Yoakam. Gideon gave detailed accounts of the treatments he provided, and about 18 minutes into the interview he admitted to “touching certain areas on the patients and succumbing to temptation.” Yoakam provided the admission to police.

Gideon was charged with three misdemeanor counts of sexual imposition. He asked the trial court to suppress the statements he made to Yoakam, arguing that his Fifth Amendment rights were violated. He maintained that he believed he was required to submit to the medical board investigator’s questions or risk losing his medical license, and that Yoakam coerced him into making the admission with the threat of losing his license.

After conducting a hearing on the request to suppress the statements, the trial court denied the motion, finding that Gideon voluntarily made the remarks during an interview where he was not in police custody.

A jury found Gideon guilty in all three cases, and he was sentenced to 180 days in jail.

Gideon appealed his conviction to the Third District, which ruled the trial court should have suppressed his statements to Yoakam.

The City of Lima Law Department and Gideon both appealed aspects of the Third District’s decision to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

Supreme Court Examined Coerced Statement Claim
Justice Stewart explained that the Fifth Amendment and Article I, Section 10 of the Ohio Constitution both protect people from being compelled to testify against themselves in any criminal case. The right to remain silent has been extended by the U.S. Supreme Court to official questionings, whether formal or informal, where the answers might be used to incriminate the person in future criminal proceedings.

In general, a person being questioned by an official must invoke their right to remain silent, and Gideon did not assert his rights against self-incrimination when talking to Yoakam. However, the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1967 Garrity v. New Jersey decision found a person does not have to invoke the right if an official is trying to coerce the person into making incriminating statements. In Garrity, police officers accused of fixing tickets were told they had to answer questions or would be fired. The high court ruled those confessions could not be used in criminal proceedings.

Unlike the officers in Garrity, Gideon is not a public employee who was threatened with being fired. However, he has a state medical license, and the Ohio Supreme Court deemed his license to be a “property right.” Threatening Gideon with losing the right to practice medicine by coercing him to make incriminating statements would be similar to threatening to fire a public employee for not answering questions, and would violate Gideon’ss Fifth Amendment rights under Garrity, the Court ruled.

Interaction with Investigator Analyzed
The Court noted that Yoakam never threatened Gideon with the loss of his license if he did not answer the questions. But in situations where investigators do not make an obvious threat, the law requires another test to determine if the statements were coerced, the Court noted.

The test required Gideon to “subjectively believe” that failure to cooperate with Yoakam would lead to the loss of his license, and that his belief he was being threatened was “objectionably reasonable” under the circumstances. For Gideon to prove his belief of being disciplined was “objectively reasonable,” he must provide some evidence of pressure by the state beyond just directing him to cooperate in the investigation, the opinion stated.

The Court noted that under R.C. 4731.22(B) doctors can be sanctioned for failing to cooperate with an investigation and failing to truthfully answer questions posed by medical board investigators. The law allows the board to “limit, revoke, or suspend” a doctor’s license or take other measures for failure to comply. The majority opinion noted that failing to comply does not subject the doctor to an automatic suspension, but rather that is just one option the medical board could take when it chooses to act at all.

The opinion also noted that medical board investigators have the option under R.C. 4731.22(F)(5) of sharing information with law enforcement.

The opinion noted the trial court attempted to consider the “totality of the circumstances” surrounding Gideon’s interview to determine whether his statements were coerced. The trial court found there was no direct threat of discipline for failure to cooperate, but only a possibility of discipline by the medical board.

The Court majority agreed with the trial court’s position that Gideon’s behavior did not demonstrate that he reasonably believed refusing to answer Yoakam’s questions would lead to the loss of his medical license, and concluded his statements were not coerced.

Dissent Concluded Statement Coerced
In his dissent, Justice Donnelly noted that the majority opinion’s conclusion that Yoakam interviewed Gideon “for the primary purpose” of determining whether Gideon was subject to medical board disciplinary actions was not tenable.

The dissenting opinion cited the Third District’s unanimous opinion, which found the opposite, ruling that Yoakam’s methods were aimed at securing a criminal conviction so that it would be less cumbersome for the medical board to sanction Gideon.

The dissent noted that although there is nothing wrong with Yoakam sharing information with the Bluffton police, “their approach suggests that Yoakam was strategically attempting to elicit information to benefit the Bluffton Police Department investigation.”

If Yoakam had appeared at Gideon’s office with a Bluffton police officer, it would be clear that his investigation was coercive, even without that, “Yoakam was all but deputized to act for the benefit of the Bluffton Police Department,”  the dissent concluded.

2019-1104. State v. Gideon, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-5635.

Video camera icon View oral argument video of this case.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

Adobe PDF PDF files may be viewed, printed, and searched using the free Acrobat® Reader
Acrobat Reader is a trademark of Adobe Systems Incorporated.