Voir Dire and HIPAA

Yesterday I presented myself for jury duty for the first time. It did not surprise me that the attorneys for a personal injury case rejected me after subjecting all the candidates to the process known as voir dire. The other prospective jurors, however, did surprise me by their willingness to discuss their medical histories openly in court. Not one refused to answer questions about injuries and treatment.

Truth be told, during the voir dire we identified ourselves only with large numbered placards, but the jury attendants had previously assigned numbers with names announced to as many as 100 prospective jurors, and selected jurors would likely introduce themselves during deliberation. I planned to refuse to provide what in any other venue would qualify as protected health information (PHI) under HIPAA, but neither judge nor attorney ever asked. I admitted only that I have never sustained an injury in a motor vehicle accident.

I still wonder whether the court can compel a prospective juror to reveal medical information. If so this would seem to represent a double standard of sorts and would seem to conflict with or even invalidate medical privacy safeguards.

All prospective jurors also dutifully stood, raised their right hands, and said, "I do," when ordered to swear the oath. (No one seemed to notice that I did not raise my hand or say, "I do.") In that situation most seem to accord great authority to judges, sometimes assuming judges possess authority they may not really have. I doubt that a judge can compel me to swear an oath. If this is true, and if judges lack the authority to compel release of medical information, they should inform prospective jurors of this fact.

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