A federal judge has ruled that Bar Harbor police violated the U.S. Constitution by forcing the driver of a car in the deadliest incident in the history of Acadia National Park to submit to a blood test without securing a warrant.
U.S. District Judge John Woodcock approved attorney Walter McKee’s motion, filed in October, to suppress the results of a first blood alcohol test taken at Mount Desert Island Hospital about 90 minutes after the Aug. 31, 2019, crash, which killed three people. McKee argued that because the crash took place on federally owned land, law enforcement should have obtained a warrant to take blood from Manubolu after he refused to submit to the test voluntarily.
Woodcock ruled that Bar Harbor police had plenty of time to secure a warrant and rejected federal arguments that a warrantless blood draw was necessary because time was pressing.
“The notion that a blood test generally requires a warrant is nothing new: It has been part of Supreme Court jurisprudence since 1966,” Woodcock wrote in his 47-page decision, which was dated Monday. “Given the prompt arrival of EMTs and the fact that Mr. Manubolu’s passengers were dead by the time of the EMTs’ arrival, according to [Bar Harbor Police Officer Jarrod] Hardy, the Government cannot demonstrate a pressing health or safety need ‘that would take priority over a warrant application.’ ”
McKee represents suspect Praneeth Manubolu, 28 — a New Jersey resident and a citizen of India — who has pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Bangor to three counts of manslaughter, two counts of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs and one count of unsafe operation.
Lenny Fuchs, 36, Laura Leong, 30, and Mohammad Zeeshan, 27, all of New York City, were killed in the crash on the Park Loop Road that was reported at about 2:45 a.m. on Aug. 31, 2019. The crash occurred not far from where the one-way section of the road begins, near the trailhead for the Gorge Path, which follows a valley between Dorr and Cadillac mountains.
The legal limit for blood-alcohol content for anyone driving a motor vehicle in Maine, and in Acadia National Park, is 0.08 percent. Manubolu’s blood-alcohol content from the warrantless test was 0.095 percent, according to court documents.
McKee said he was satisfied with the judge’s ruling.
“The decision was what we expected all along but that the government refused to accept: The blood draw here was flat out unconstitutional and no exception applied,” he said in an email. “There are other battles ahead in this case but this one has been won and we will fight on to the next.”
It was unclear what impact Woodcock’s ruling would have on the case. The results of the second test have not been made public but were presented to the grand jury that indicted Manubolu, according to a federal prosecutor.
Woodcock cited U.S. Supreme Court cases demonstrating the principle that constitutionally-granted privacy concerns outweigh “any such intrusions [of privacy] on the mere chance that desired evidence might be obtained” and holding that “[s]earch warrants are ordinarily required for searches of dwellings, and absent an emergency, no less could be required where intrusions into the human body are concerned.”
Following the crash, Manubolu told police he and other occupants of the vehicle had been out drinking in Bar Harbor prior to the crash, which occurred at 2:47 a.m., according to an affidavit filed in court.
“As a result of the crash, Praneeth Manubolu had a few cuts and scrapes,” Ranger Brian Dominy wrote in an affidavit detailing the case. “Based upon skid marks and vehicle damage, it appears as though [Manubolu] was travelling well over the posted speed limit of 25 mph on the Park Loop Road.”
While Manubolu is being charged in federal court because the crash occurred at the national park, he could be subject to Maine’s maximum punishment for a Class A manslaughter conviction: 30 years in prison and a $50,000 fine. In their court complaint against Manubolu, prosecutors cite the Assimilative Crimes Act, under which federal law mirrors that of a state in circumstances of alleged criminal behavior that Congress has not specifically addressed.
Manubolo was released from jail in September on conditions that include home detention except for employment, education, medical and legal purposes. He will also have to wear a location monitoring device and will be subjected to alcohol testing.
Correction: Due to inaccurate information provided by Acadia National Park, an earlier version of this report listed the first and last names of one of the victims in the wrong order.