Farmer Fights Commercial Vehicle Searches at Eighth Circuit

ST. LOUIS (CN) – An attorney for a Missouri farmer argued before the Eighth Circuit on Wednesday that a state law allowing police to pull over commercial vehicles and inspect them without cause is overly broad and unconstitutional.

On June 3, 2013, Ronald Calzone was pulled over by a member of the Missouri State Highway Patrol and detained for more than an hour because the officer did not recognize the truck or the markings displayed on his vehicle.

Calzone was driving a dump truck that he uses to support his cattle and horse ranch. The truck has Missouri-issued, 54,000-pound local commercial vehicle license plates.

Calzone filed a federal lawsuit in 2015 challenging the law on the grounds that he is not a commercial long-haul driver. A federal judge in the Eastern District of Missouri ruled against him, finding such searches are necessary because trucks operate 24 hours a day and police officers must be allowed to be conduct a search anytime, and the statute advances the substantial government interests of highway preservation and safety.

On appeal to the Eighth Circuit, Calzone’s attorney, David Roland, argued in court Wednesday that his client is not a commercial driver.

“The mistake made is that because Missouri law labels certain vehicles as commercial vehicles then they must be in the commercial industry,” Roland told the three-judge panel. “That is not the case here. … The U.S. Supreme Court has said repeatedly and consistently that the only exception is when a person is engaged in a commercial business. Clearly, Mr. Calzone is not.”

Roland argued that Calzone’s vehicle had a farm tag as well and that use of the truck was restricted to a 50-mile radius of his property.

The judges asked Roland if law enforcement would have trouble telling the difference between the certifications.

“We submit that where you have a vehicle licensed local commercial and it has a farm tag … that is visibly noticeable,” Roland responded, “that vehicle should not be subject to search.”

Attorney Peter Reed represented the Missouri Highway Patrol. He argued that public safety is the overriding interest in the searches of commercial vehicles.

“The statute’s interest is in limiting overweight commercial vehicles,” Reed said to the panel. “I think my opponent makes a mistake by limiting it to commercial carriers.”

Reed argued that Calzone’s interpretation would also exempt commercial carriers such as milk trucks and construction vehicles from the search requirements.

He also claimed that Calzone was indeed using the truck “to advance the commercial interests of his farm” at the time of the inspection. He said the truck was registered for commercial use, had a sign for Calzone’s farm on the side, and Calzone admitted the truck’s use was for his farm.

In his rebuttal, Roland claimed the government is trying to engage “in sleight of hand.”

“The question here is whether the government can engage in suspicionless stops,” Roland said. “And the Supreme Court has repeatedly said suspicionless stops are only for highly regulated industry.”

U.S. Circuit Judges Lavenski R. Smith, Steven M. Colloton and Ralph R. Erickson sat on the panel. It is unclear when they will issue a decision.

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