Court Upholds Maine Law Mandating Blood Tests in Fatal Crashes

By Clarke Canfield | August 16, 2007

Maine’s highest court has upheld a state law that mandates blood alcohol and drug testing on drivers when a motor vehicle accident results in a fatality.

The decision stemmed from a manslaughter case in which a lower court ruled that the results from a blood-alcohol test on a driver were unconstitutional and should be suppressed. The judge ruled that the test results violated the Fourth Amendment protection from “nonconsensual, warrantless and suspicionless searches.”

The state appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. In a 34-page opinion, justices in a 4-2 decision vacated the ruling to suppress the evidence and sent the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley wrote that the statute itself is constitutional and that the test results are admissible in court if the state demonstrates that the defendant consented to the test or there was probable cause to believe the driver was operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Saufley further wrote that the state’s need to obtain information about the intoxication of drivers involved in fatal accidents has to be balanced against the privacy interest of motorists.

“We conclude that the state’s interest in gathering information to assist in addressing the problem of intoxicated driving outweighs the privacy interest of drivers in the content of their blood,” Saufley wrote.

Richard Cormier of Gray was driving a car that was involved in a head-on collision on Route 85 in Raymond on May 11, 2003. An elderly couple from Gray were killed in the accident.

Cormier was transported by ambulance to a hospital, where his blood was drawn. The blood-alcohol content was 0.08 percent, meaning he was legally intoxicated.

Cormier was later indicted on two counts of manslaughter and other charges, but he moved to suppress the results of the blood test in a court motion. Justice Paul Fritzsche agreed, ruling that Cormier had not consented to the test and that there wasn’t sufficient probable cause to believe he was operating under the influence.

Fritzsche found the only justification for the blood test was the state law that mandates a test when an accident has resulted in a fatality. He cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision in declaring the test results as inadmissible in court.

Supreme court justices Jon Levy and Susan Calkins disagreed with the majority opinion released Tuesday.

“The majority’s opinion leads the law into new, uncharted territory in which probable cause _ a cornerstone of the Fourth Amendment _ plays a secondary, after-the-fact role,” Levy wrote. “Notwithstanding (the statute’s) proper and noble purpose, I conclude that to the extent the statute authorizes searches and seizures based on after-acquired probable cause, the statute is unconstitutional.”

Calls to attorneys with the Cumberland County district attorney’s office, who represented the state, and to Cormier’s lawyer, Glen Porter of Bangor, were not returned Tuesday.

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