Maine high court hears case of trucker convicted in fatal DUI crash
February 15, 2019
The Maine Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in a case involving a trucker who was sentenced to 25 years in prison after convicted on 15 counts from various charges, including manslaughter, for a fatal DUI crash. Attorneys for the trucker argue that a warrantless blood test conducted on the driver should have been suppressed during trial.
Attorneys for Randall Weddle stated their case in front of the Maine Supreme Court on Feb. 7, after Weddle was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in a fatal 2016 crash. A jury found that Weddle was impaired when the crash occurred and found him guilty on all charges.
Prior to the verdict, Weddle’s attorneys tried to get blood test evidence removed from the trial. Attorneys argued that the blood draw was inadmissible, because it was obtained without a warrant or consent. That motion was denied and is the crux of the case under review at the state Supreme Court.
March 2016 at about 5 p.m., Weddle was driving his truck pulling lumber on Route 17 in Washington, Maine. Weddle’s truck moved into the eastbound lane when going around a curve, resulting in a crash with four cars traveling in that lane.
Lumber was thrown off the trailer, and the tractor-trailer itself ended up upside down on the side of the road, according to court documents. While at the hospital, Weddle claimed that the load shifted as a result of him attempting to avoid an oncoming vehicle near the center line. Two people were killed.
A bottle of Crown Royal was found in the cab while investigators looked through it days after the crash. Blood tests revealed that Weddle had a blood alcohol level of 0.090 at the scene. Further analysis revealed a positive result for hydrocodone.
Weddle was indicted on the following charges:
- Two counts of manslaughter.
- Three counts of aggravated criminal operating under the influence.
- Two counts of driving to endanger.
- Five counts of false record of duty status.
- One count of ill or fatigued operator.
- One count of use of alcohol while on duty.
- One count of possession of alcohol while on duty.
Attorneys motioned to have the blood test removed as evidence. That motion was denied. A jury found Weddle guilty of all counts. Weddle was then sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Constitutionality of blood test
Just before being transported to a hospital via Life Flight, law enforcement directed that blood be drawn from Weddle. According to court documents, an EMT testified that law enforcement stated that Weddle had given verbal consent for the blood draw. The EMT would not have conducted the blood draw otherwise.
According to a brief filed by Weddle’s attorneys, one officer who was at the scene stated no permission was obtained because Weddle was in no condition to be asked. However, the EMT noted that Weddle was alert and responsive. Another officer also acknowledged that he did not obtain consent. Despite taking more than one hour to extract Weddle from the truck, no attempt was made to obtain a warrant.
Officers relied on Title 29-A Section 2522 of the Maine revised statutes, which states a driver involved in a crash where there is probable cause believe that death has occurred or will occur as a result will submit to a blood test. However, Weddle’s attorneys cite two U.S. Supreme Court cases that found mandatory testing of blood to be unconstitutional.
In Missouri v. McNeely, the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that a nonconsensual warrantless blood draw violated Fourth Amendment rights in a routine DWI case. However, the court also determined it was not justified “without showing exigent circumstances that make securing a warrant impractical in a particular case,” leaving the possibility for a warrantless blood draw to be deemed legal.
A 2016 decision in Birchfield v. North Dakota addressed a similar incident in which the accused refused to submit to a blood draw.
“Because there appears to be no other basis for a warrantless test of Birchfield’s blood, he was threatened with an unlawful search and unlawfully convicted for refusing that search,” the court opined.
In both cases, the drivers explicitly refused to submit to a blood draw. Furthermore, neither case involved a crash with another vehicle, let alone a fatal crash.
Weddle’s attorneys are asking the state Supreme Court to revisit the case as it applies to Section 2522 since the state has not addressed the statute since a case that was decided in 2007, six years before the U.S. Supreme Court decided the McNeely case. In the 2007 case, the state Supreme Court ruled that nonconsensual, warrantless blood draws do not violate the Fourth Amendment.