ROCKLAND, Maine — Maine’s highest court has ruled that a state law requiring blood draws to be conducted on drivers involved in fatal crashes is unconstitutional — but upheld the conviction of a Tennessee truck driver who was subject to one following a fatal crash in Knox County.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court in its decision Tuesday found “unique circumstances” in the appeal of Randall Weddle, the 57-year-old trucker who was convicted by a Knox County jury in 2018 of manslaughter and driving under the influence. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Weddle’s attorney Jeremey Pratt argued that a lower court erred in denying the suppression of a roadside blood test taken without a warrant or Weddle’s consent shortly after the crash occurred. But the court ruled Tuesday that while Weddle’s Fourth Amendment rights were in fact violated, there’s a “good faith” exception that allows for evidence obtained by illegal searches to be admissible in court.
“The officer who ordered Weddle’s blood draw acted in good faith reliance on a [state law] blessed as constitutional [by this court] as recently as 2007,” the decision reads.
Tuesday’s decision reversed a ruling in 2007 when the justices found a warrantless blood draw after a fatal crash was constitutional. Then, two justices dissented. In Weddle’s case, two justices agreed that his conviction should not be overturned but found the law constitutional.
On March 18, 2016, Weddle was driving a tractor-trailer fully loaded with lumber when he crashed into oncoming traffic on the frequently used Route 17 in rural Knox County near Washington. Weddle struck two cars, sending one into a field where it burst into flames.
Christina Torres-York, 45, of Warren and Paul Fowles, 74, of Owls Head died in the crash.
Weddle was pinned inside the cab of his truck and needed to be extricated, which took nearly an hour, as traffic backed up on the main road between Rockland and Augusta.
“In short, the accident scene was chaotic, confusing, intense and large,” according to the court’s decision.
A sergeant from the Knox County Sheriff’s office made the decision to conduct a blood draw on Weddle — believing he was responsible for the crash — to preserve evidence.
Prior to the blood draw, the sergeant had no probable cause to believe that Weddle had been under the influence of drugs or alcohol, instead he relied “solely upon his knowledge and understanding of Maine’s mandatory blood draw statute,” the decision stated.
Since the law was considered constitutional at the time of the draw, suppressing the blood test from presentation at trial would “serve no other purpose than to withhold reliable information from the truth-seeking process and punish an officer for doing its job,” according to the decision.
Two of the court’s seven justices dissented on the ruling.