Maine police now need warrants for blood tests in fatal vehicle accidents

Officials are questioning if police will be able to quickly obtain warrants in light of these new instructions, since alcohol and drugs dissipate in the bloodstream over time

Judy Harrison
Bangor Daily News

BANGOR, Maine — The Maine attorney general’s office has told police officers that they must obtain a warrant before blood can be drawn from a suspected impaired driver at the scene of a fatal crash, marking a change in longstanding practice for law enforcement in Maine.

The instructions came Tuesday night after the Maine Supreme Judicial Court found that a state law requiring officers to obtain a blood sample at the scenes of fatal crashes is unconstitutional.

“Effective immediately, before blood can be drawn in fatal accident cases, probable cause must be established before the draw takes place unless the motorist voluntarily consents,” Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber said in a listserv message to police officers. “Without consent, a warrant should be obtained or exigent circumstances must be carefully documented.”

Whether police officers will be able to electronically seek a warrant from their cruisers and have it returned signed by a judge after showing probable cause remained an unanswered question Wednesday morning. Because alcohol and drugs dissipate in the bloodstream over time, obtaining blood samples as close to the time of accidents as possible is important in prosecutions.

A spokeswoman for the state’s judicial branch did not immediately respond to a question about whether the court system is capable of receiving and sending warrants to police officers in the field.

Macomber said that after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Missouri v. McNeely in 2013 — on which the state supreme court based its decision — he created a warrant form that officers could fill out at the scene of a fatal crash to show there was probable cause for a warrant. Macomber said that he anticipated Maine’s law requiring that drivers in fatal crashes submit to blood tests eventually would be overturned.

Marianne Lynch, district attorney for Penobscot and Piscataquis County, on Tuesday said her advice to police officers would also be to seek a warrant for a blood sample going forward.

“The warrant requirement will undoubtedly impact investigations on these very serious cases,” she has said. “I remain confident that Maine prosecutors together with law enforcement will work to comply with the law as set down by the Law Court.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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