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Justice Joseph M. Jabar asks a question during a hearing in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on whether ranked-choice voting can be used in Maine's June 12th primary, April 12, 2018, in Portland, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Justice Joseph M. Jabar asks a question during a hearing in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on whether ranked-choice voting can be used in Maine's June 12th primary, April 12, 2018, in Portland, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Maine court rejects blood tests without probable cause

PORTLAND, Maine — A state law requiring a blood test in all fatal crashes regardless of probable cause is unconstitutional, Maine’s highest court ruled Tuesday in the case of a trucker fighting a manslaughter conviction.

The Supreme Judicial Court issued the ruling even as it upheld the conviction of the Tennessee trucker for two counts of manslaughter, citing a good faith exception because the police officer applied the law as it was then known.

The trucker, Randall Weddle, argued in his appeal that the state law was unconstitutional.

Tuesday’s ruling was a reversal for the state’s supreme court, which previously upheld the constitutionality of the law in 2007. The U.S. Supreme Court has issued further guidance on warrantless searches since then, Justice Joseph Jabar wrote in the ruling.

“Weddle’s blood was taken without a warrant, without his consent and without probable cause to believe that he was impaired by alcohol at the time his blood was drawn. No exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement applies,” he wrote.

The ruling means that, going forward, law enforcement officers will either have to establish probable case of impairment or obtain consent before drawing blood for evidence after a crash that either caused, or likely caused, a fatality, said Donald Macomber, assistant attorney general.

Weddle, of Greeneville, Tennessee, is serving a 25-year sentence for manslaughter and aggravated driving under the influence in the 2016 crash, in which his tractor-trailer loaded with lumber crashed into oncoming traffic in Washington, Maine. Christina Torres-York, 45, of Warren, and Paul Fowles, 74, of Owls Head, were killed.

A sergeant from the Knox County Sheriff’s Department thought Weddle might be responsible and asked a paramedic to draw blood to preserve evidence.

The officer didn’t obtain consent for the test, nor did he assess Weddle’s sobriety, the court said. Investigators later found a partially consumed bottle of whiskey in the cab of Weddle’s truck, but the officer at the scene didn’t know that at the time.

The ruling was “bitter” for Weddle because he lost his appeal even though he prevailed on the constitutional argument, said defense attorney Jeremy Pratt. Pratt said he’d probably appeal but needed more time review the decision.

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