ELLSWORTH — A judge has ruled a blood test taken from the defendant in an Eastbrook manslaughter case inadmissible as evidence because police did not obtain a warrant to draw the suspect’s blood nor have her express consent to the test.
Maine Superior Court Justice Bruce C. Mallonee on Friday issued his ruling on Bangor attorney Hunter J. Tzovarras’s motion to suppress the blood test of his client, Darlene Haslam of Eastbrook.
The decision comes on the cusp of the two-year anniversary of Trudy Pickard’s death.
Haslam was driving a pickup truck on Nov. 15, 2017, which hit a utility pole and a tree on Route 200 across from the Eastbrook Community Center. Pickard, 54, had been a passenger in the backseat with her husband, Scott. Authorities said Pickard died a few days later at a Bangor hospital.
Haslam had asked the court to suppress the results of a blood test she claimed was taken in violation of her constitutional rights.
The judge stated in his three-page decision that results of a blood test are admissible as evidence only if they were obtained via a warrant, in response to certain “exigent” or urgent circumstances or with a defendant’s consent.
“Had the deputy sought a warrant to draw defendant’s blood, he might have been successful, but he did not do so,” Mallonee stated. “Neither did the record show (nor did the state assert) any exigent circumstance justifying a warrantless blood draw.”
“The narrow issue before the court is therefore limited to whether the defendant consented,” Mallonee stated.
The state, represented by Deputy District Attorney Toff Toffolon, provided evidence that Haslam did consent, the judge said.
“Defendant’s general cooperation, her polite interactions with the police officer and her willing submission to the draw are all consistent with consent,” Mallonee stated.
However, when Haslam asked if she was required to take a blood test, Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy Travis Frost said she was. The judge said those statements could “reasonably have persuaded” Haslam that she had no choice, the judge said.
“It is difficult not to see the defendant’s eventual submission to the blood draw as acquiescence to the deputy’s authority rather than affirmative, informed consent and the court so finds,” Mallonee stated.
Frost appeared to believe the law compelled Haslam to submit to a blood test because of the seriousness of the accident, the judge said.
Mallonee cited a 2013 Supreme Court decision (Missouri v. McNeely) that calls for judges to decide on a case by case basis whether warrantless blood draws are admissible in drunk driving cases.
Mallonee recalled in his ruling certain statements made about the case that were presented at an Aug. 30 suppression hearing.
When Frost responded to the accident, he said he found Haslam in the back seat holding Pickard’s body.
Frost knew the defendant and approached her. Haslam acknowledged she’d been driving the truck and that she’d been drinking, the court record stated. She told Frost she had consumed three glasses of white Zinfandel over 3.5 hours and had not eaten dinner. Haslam’s speech was not slurred and she had no trouble walking, according to court records.
Frost advised Haslam that she would have to take a blood test. “That’s Maine law,” he responded, according to the court record.
According to the judge’s ruling, Haslam replied, “Whatever needs to get done.”
Later, in the cruiser, on the way to the hospital for the blood draw, Frost advised Haslam where they were headed. Her response was “yes,” according to the court record.
Later during the ride to the hospital, Haslam asked what her options were and what would happen if she refused.
“The deputy responded, “You kinda have to.”
“He communicated clearly that the defendant was required to allow her blood to be drawn because the accident had been fatal,” Mallonee stated. “At the hospital, the defendant allowed her blood to be drawn without incident.”
Haslam faces charges of manslaughter, aggravated criminal OUI and driving to endanger stemming from the crash.
District Attorney Matt Foster said suppression of the blood test should not hinder the state’s case.
“The prosecution should not be compromised due to this ruling,” Foster said. “We would obviously have liked to have had that evidence available to the jury, but there is plenty of other evidence of intoxication and reckless actions by the driver and we will continue to prosecute the case.”
The prosecutor’s office also has charged Haslam with a civil violation of motor vehicle violation resulting in death.
“That is a charge that we commonly use in addition to the manslaughter because the manslaughter statute isn’t specific to vehicles and doesn’t have license suspension provisions,” Foster said. “The civil charge allows us to request the court to suspend a person’s license for up to six years in addition to imposing additional fines.”
“Also, because it is civil, it has a lower burden of proof,” Foster said.
When reached for comment, Hancock County Sheriff Scott Kane said he had not yet had a chance to review the judge’s decision.
Both Haslam and another passenger, Matthew McDevitt, 38, of Eastbrook, were wearing their seat belts during the 2017 accident. The Pickards were not, police said.