Legal experts explain ruling of unconstitutionality by Maine Supreme Judicial Court

Published: Jan. 29, 2020 at 6:33 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court Tuesday denied an appeal in an OUI case involving Randall Weddle who caused a crash that killed two people in Knox County.

However, the justices ruled the manner in which law enforcement obtain blood samples from drivers involved in fatal crashes was unconstitutional.

We spoke with some legal experts Wednesday on what that means for the system.

Tennessee truck driver Randall Weddle is serving 25 years in prison for manslaughter and aggravated drunk driving stemming from a fatal crash in 2016.

Although his appeal was denied Tuesday, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court made the rare ruling that a long-standing statute was unconstitutional.

"This is a major change in Maine law that's been around for a long, long time," said defense attorney Walt McKee.

McKee is one of Maine's most prominent defense attorneys.

"Now, when people are involved in accidents that are fatal, might be, or probably going to be fatal -- that they're no longer going to be required to submit to an alcohol test," said McKee.

This means that for officers to obtain blood at this type of scene, they now need to either get consent, get a warrant, or prove special circumstances.

"I think it's an important decision because what it tells us is that our individual rights and our individual liberties are still very much alive, that a search warrant is necessary for law enforcement to in essence force blood to be removed for your system," said McKee. "It kind of makes sense that there should be a process there."

This ruling puts suspected fatal drunk driving crashes in the same category of drawing blood with any other O.U.I. case.

Assistant Attorney General Don Macomber says police departments have been informed of the change in process.

"The difference now is that they're also going to have to divert their attention from immediate life-saving activities to also try to develop probable cause of impairment before they can draw the blood," said Macomber.

Defense attorney Darrick Banda, a leading O.U.I. lawyer in the state, says that even though the ruling is narrow, it's a positive step for peoples' 4th amendment rights. But he also says that there are other issues that can still come up with folks' rights when it comes to drawing blood.

He says it's always important to know your rights and ask to speak to an attorney.

"The golden rule is to wait before you speak to police, before you consent to searches, try to talk to a lawyer," said Banda.