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Maine Supreme Court Declares Blood Draw Statute Unconstitutional, Overruling Cormier

by Douglas Ankney

The Supreme Court of Maine declared 29-A M.R.S. §§ 2522(2) and 2522(3) facially unconstitutional, overruling State v. Cormier, 928 A.2d 753 (Me. 2007).

Randall J. Weddle was pinned inside the cab of his tractor-trailer as the result of an accident that involved five vehicles. It took almost an hour to extricate Weddle from the cab. Two officers with the Knox County Sheriff’s Department believed Weddle may have been responsible for the accident and directed an EMT to take a sample of Weddle’s blood to preserve evidence. Neither officer had probable cause to believe Weddle had been under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the accident.

Both officers relied on 29-A M.R.S. § 2522(2) as authority for the seizure of the blood. Several days after the accident, police found a three-quarters-full bottle of whiskey and a shot glass in the cab.

Weddle was charged with several crimes, including two counts of manslaughter and two counts of causing a death while operating under the influence. He moved to suppress the evidence, including the results of the blood draw. The trial court denied the motion, and a jury convicted Weddle on all counts. Weddle appealed, arguing that 29-A M.R.S. § 2252 is unconstitutional and that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress the results of the blood draw.

The Maine Supreme Court observed “[s]ection 2522(1) requires every driver involved in a fatal, or likely fatal, motor vehicle accident to ‘submit’ to testing that will allow the State to determine if there was alcohol or drugs in his or her system at the time of the accident ....” And “section 2522(2) explicitly directs that law enforcement officers ‘shall cause a blood test to be administered.’” Section 2522(3) provides: “The result of a test is admissible at trial if the court, after reviewing all the evidence, whether gathered prior to, during, or after the test, is satisfied that probable cause exists, independent of the test result, to believe that the operator was under the influence of intoxicants at the time of the accident.”

The Court reiterated “[t]here is hardly a principle of constitutional law more firmly entrenched than the requirement that law enforcement officers may conduct a search only when they have probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed.” State v. Martin, 120 A.3d 113 (Me. 2015). The Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”) has insisted upon probable cause as a minimum requirement for a constitutional search. Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42 (1970). Even when the “exigent circumstances” exception applies to permit a search without a warrant, the police must still have probable cause. Fisher v. Volz, 496 F.2d 333 (3d Cir. 1974). And probable cause cannot be established after the search. People v. Scott, 227 P.3d 894 (Colo. 2010). Consequently, the bottle of whiskey, the shot glass, and the other evidence discovered after the blood draw could not provide probable cause retroactively after the warrantless search had already been performed.

The “special needs doctrine” does permit a search in the absence of probable cause, but the doctrine refers to “special needs, beyond the normal need for law enforcement, [that] make the warrant and probable-cause requirement impracticable.” New Jersey v. TLO, 469 U.S. 325 (1985). In Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives’ Association, 489 U.S. 602 (1989), SCOTUS upheld a railway regulation that required the testing of employees’ blood following serious train accidents because it was the “[g]overnment’s interest in regulating the conduct of railroad employees to ensure safety” that presented the special needs. The results of the blood testing of the railroad employees were used to discipline the employees but were not used as evidence in criminal trials. 

In contrast, in Ferguson v. City of Charleston, 532 U.S. 67 (2001), SCOTUS held that the special needs exception did not permit a hospital to conduct warrantless blood testing for drug use in order to get pregnant women into drug treatment because the results of those tests were frequently handed over to law enforcement for use in subsequent criminal prosecutions. Because the results of blood draws taken under § 2522 were used in criminal prosecutions, the special needs doctrine does not apply, the Maine Supreme Court concluded.

The Court acknowledged that in Cormier it had upheld the constitutionality of a warrantless blood draw taken pursuant to § 2522 in the absence of probable cause and in spite of the fact that none of the traditional exceptions to the warrant requirement applied. The Cormier decision allowed for a determination of previously existing probable cause after the search due to exigencies at the scene of the collision that kept officers from developing probable cause before the blood draw. But in light of Birchfield v. North Dakota, 136 S. Ct. 2160 (2016), which highlighted “the important privacy interest that a person holds in his or her blood,” the Court determined that “the approach taken in Cormier is no longer viable.”

The Court concluded that §§ 2522(2) and 2522(3) are facially unconstitutional and overruled Cormier to the extent it conflicts with the instant opinion. Thus, it held that the blood draw taken without a warrant, consent, or probable cause “violated Weddle’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizure.” 

The Court then turned its attention to what the appropriate remedy, if any, should be for the violation. It explained that ordinarily when evidence is obtained in violation of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights, “the judicially developed exclusionary rule usually precludes its use in a criminal proceeding against the victim of the illegal search and seizure.” Illinois v. Krull, 480 U.S. 340 (1987) (evidence may be admissible when police rely on a statute that is subsequently invalidated). 

The purpose of the rule is “to deter future unlawful police conduct,” not to cure the violation of the defendant’s rights. United States v. Calandra, 414 U.S. 338 (1974). As such, evidence should only be suppressed when the police know or should have known the search was unconstitutional; suppressing evidence obtained as a result of conduct that is “objectively reasonable” doesn’t serve the purpose of the exclusionary rule. Krull. 

Consequently, some jurisdictions have adopted the so-called good faith exception to the exclusionary rule established in United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984). However, the Maine Supreme Court noted that “we have not previously relied on the good faith exception, [but] we do so today because … suppression” under these facts “would not serve the purpose of the exclusionary rule.” That is, even though the officers violated Weddle’s Fourth Amendment rights, the Government was still permitted to use the unlawfully seized evidence because the officers believed their conduct was lawful due to their reliance on the statute. 

Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment against Weddle. See: State v. Weddle, 2020 ME 12 (2020). 

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