AUGUSTA – For 16 years, law enforcement officers in Maine were required to draw a driver’s blood if they were involved in a serious or fatal crash.
That changed Tuesday with a decision by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. In a split decision, the state’s high court ruled the 2003 law unconstitutional.
“Yesterday’s ruling was really representing an entire ground shift when it comes to fatal accidents,” said Walter McKee, an Augusta attorney. “Everybody who was involved in one of those was rushed down to a hospital to give a blood test … and what the Maine Supreme Court said is that is not going to happen anymore.”
A prosecutor with the Maine Attorney General’s Office explains how the system will work now.
“I’ve advised law enforcement agencies and the district attorneys’ offices that effective immediately that they have, before drawing blood samples in cases such as this, they have to either have consent from the driver, a warrant, or exigent circumstances and probable cause,” said Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber.
Macomber said the 2003 law was put into place so law enforcement responding to an emergency crash could focus on saving lives.
McKee said he expects the judicial court’s decision will impact his federal triple manslaughter case involving an Atlanta man charged in the rollover crash deaths of three hiking buddies at Acadia National Park over Labor Day weekend.
“I think it has a pretty significant impact,” he said.
Praneeth Manubolu, 28, is asking a federal judge to throw out a blood sample taken in the hours after, police say, he got drunk in Bar Harbor and rolled a vehicle in nearby Acadia killing his three passengers.
“Our position is that it doesn’t apply in the first place because this happened on federal land as opposed to the state,” McKee said. “Any argument about, ‘well, they could apply the Maine implied consent statute to enforce the blood draw’ is gone now.”
A March hearing in Bangor is currently scheduled to hear Manubolu’s arguments.
“I think this is definitely going to take a hit to the government’s case for sure,” McKee said.