A federal judge has tossed out the result of a blood alcohol test for the driver in a fatal car crash in Acadia National Park last summer.

Praneeth Manubolu after the crash on Aug. 31, 2019.  Photo courtesy of Hancock County Jail

Praneeth Manubolu has been indicted on three counts of manslaughter, two counts of operating under the influence and one count of unsafe operation. Court documents show his blood alcohol content from the test in question was 0.095 percent, over the legal limit of 0.08 percent in state and federal law.

Police said Manubolu was driving a car on the Park Loop Road in the early hours of Aug. 31, 2019, when it rolled over and crashed into trees, killing his three passengers.

The ruling Monday follows others in recent years by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Maine Supreme Judicial Court addressing the constitutional requirements to take blood samples in suspected drunken-driving cases.

At the time, Maine law required a blood draw for any driver in an accident with serious injury or death, though the state’s top court has since declared that statute unconstitutional. Court documents show a local police officer cited that law when he arranged the blood draw at Mount Desert Island Hospital even though Manubolu did not consent and a judge had not yet signed a warrant.

But Manubolu is charged in federal court because the crash happened in a national park. Defense attorney Walter McKee filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Bangor last year to suppress the result of that blood test. He argued the state law did not apply in Acadia, and federal law sets a different standard for obtaining a blood sample in suspected drunken-driving cases.

“The decision was what we expected all along, but that the government refused to accept: the blood draw here was flat-out unconstitutional and no exception applied,” McKee wrote in an email Tuesday. “There are other battles ahead in this case, but this one has been won and we will fight on to the next.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office had opposed the motion. The prosecutor argued that the officer had reason to collect the blood sample without a warrant because he knew three passengers had died and any alcohol in the driver’s blood could dissipate in the time needed to get a warrant.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Wolff said Tuesday that the office is reviewing the order and did not have any comment.

Praneeth Manubolu challenged the blood test that was taken after the car he was driving in Acadia National Park early on Aug. 31, 2019, went off Park Loop Road, killing his three passengers. He argued that the state-mandated blood sample shouldn’t have been taken because the accident occurred on federal land. National Park Service photo

District Judge John Woodcock heard oral arguments on the motion in March and issued his order Monday.

“Because the Court concludes that the mandatory blood draw was unconstitutional, and because the Court further finds that there were no exigent circumstances and the good-faith exception does not apply to the officer’s conduct, the Court grants the motion and suppresses the blood draw,” Woodcock wrote.

The judge faulted federal prosecutors for taking hours to answer calls from investigators and eventually get a search warrant.

“Here, if the on-duty (assistant U.S. attorneys) had answered the call, treated the need for a warrant as urgent, diligently set about preparing an application for a search warrant, located and placed a magistrate judge on notice of an anticipated phone call, and if it had then turned out that the process, quickly started and aggressively pursued, was taking so much time that any blood sample ultimately collected would be unusable, the case would be different,” he wrote.

The judge’s order also indicates that hospital staff took a second blood test for medical purposes, and the court has not yet decided whether that test can be considered as evidence in the case. It is not included in the public court documents.

Woodcock referenced cases that have set the federal precedent for blood draws in recent years.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people suspected of drunken driving cannot automatically be subjected to a blood test. But the justices said each case needs to be considered individually, so law enforcement officers still have the option to draw blood without a warrant in exigent circumstances.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court issued another ruling related to warrantless blood draws, this time saying police can take a sample from an unconscious person suspected of driving under the influence. Manubolu did not lose consciousness, and that case did not bear significantly on the arguments from either side. The judge cited it briefly in his order, saying the government failed to show that another emergency took priority over the need to get a warrant.

Woodcock also cited an earlier case when another federal judge in Maine limited the use of a blood test during trial.

In 2018, District Judge Brock D. Hornby blocked the use of a blood test of a fishing boat captain who was charged with seaman’s manslaughter in the deaths of his two crew members. They died when his lobster boat sank in 2014, and a warrantless blood test showed the captain had ingested marijuana and oxycodone. The judge decided the test would only be admitted at trial if the captain testified that he had not used drugs, and the man ultimately pleaded guilty in exchange for a four-year prison sentence.

An affidavit in this case said Manubolu called 911 to report the crash at 2:47 a.m. on Aug. 31. He later told police that the group of four friends had been out drinking in Bar Harbor, which is just outside the park.

Park officials identified the victims as Lenny Fuchs, 36, Laura Leong, 30, and Zeeshan Mohammed, 27, all of New York City.

Wolff, the spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said he would ask the victims’ families if they had any comments on the judge’s ruling. He did not share any responses Tuesday.

Manubolu was 28 and living in New Jersey at the time of the crash. Court documents show he was released on bail, and his conditions of release allow for home detention. Earlier this month, the judge amended those conditions to allow him to move to Georgia for a new job.

McKee declined a request to interview his client Tuesday.

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