In State v. Cormier, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, was asked to determine whether a Maine statute requiring law enforcement officers to test the blood of all drivers for intoxicants following a fatal motor vehicle collision violates the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution when the operation of the statute allows for the admission of those blood test results in a future criminal trial of the driver. In determining that the procedures of title 29-A, section 2522 of the Maine Revised Statutes are not violative of the Fourth Amendment, the Law Court effectively confirmed that the State’s interest in obtaining information regarding the intoxication of drivers in fatal collisions without a warrant outweighs the privacy interest of the individual. Further, the Law Court established that those test results are certainly admissible in a criminal proceeding against a driver when the State demonstrates that either before, during, or after the administration of the mandatory blood test, information came to light to establish probable cause that the operator involved in the accident was intoxicated. As a result, the Cormier court concluded that section 2522 survives constitutional scrutiny. This case required the Law Court to squarely apply its Fourth Amendment search and seizure jurisprudence to Maine’s professedly “unique” statute for the first time. In so doing, the Law Court was forced to wrestle with the contours of the power of law enforcement personnel to conduct individual searches within the bounds of constitutional purposes. The primary reasoning articulated by the majority in reaching this determination was that if the statutory requirements of the probable cause determination were met, the “built-[in]” protections of Maine’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence would preclude such a search from being unreasonable. The majority found further support for the constitutionality of section 2522 by reasoning that the State’s interest and “special needs,” separate from the general purpose of law enforcement, justify an exception to the warrant requirement. Conversely, the dissent asserted that the majority had flatly circumvented constitutionality by allowing for “after-the-fact” evidence to establish probable cause and, in so doing, effectively sanctioned an unwarranted intrusion on individual privacy. Thus, a new question emerges: By authorizing warrantless, suspicionless, and nonconsensual searches and seizures of blood following fatal vehicular accidents on the basis of state data collection and after-acquired probable cause evidence, did the Law Court apply the best possible logic to reach its conclusion? Arguing that the Law Court erred when it sustained the constitutionality of section 2522 on the grounds that it did, this Note will address the consequences of Cormier and how the legislature should amend section 2522 to avoid future constitutional challenges while preserving the legislature’s intent to protect Maine drivers and to collect data to further that purpose. Next, this Note argues that the result of the majority could be defensible on other “less clumsy” grounds, and questions why the Law Court took such strenuous yet logically faulty measures to reach its chosen result. Finally, this Note asserts a dual conclusion. First, the faulty reasoning of the Cormier court has allowed Maine to slide into unconstitutional territory where probable cause merely plays an inferior role to the State’s true interest in collecting evidence to be used in criminal prosecutions for drunk driving-related crimes. Second, the State arguably does have a heightened interest in the public at large by ascribing fault to drunk drivers, which outweighs individual privacy. However, the majority blundered when it failed to execute the most effective reasoning possible.
Kyle T. MacDonald,
Does the End Justify the Means? The Clumsy and Circuitous Logic of Blood Test Admissibility in Criminal Prosecutions in State v. Cormier,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol61/iss1/10