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Can Police Search Commercial Vehicles Without Cause?

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on January 23, 2019 11:30 AM

Ronald Calzone drives cattle, not trucks, for a living.

But a Missouri police officer pulled him over for driving a truck because the officer thought he was violating long-haul vehicle laws. The officer searched the vehicle and then let him go because it turned out Calzone was a farmer, not a commercial driver.

Calzone sued in Calzone v. Koster, but a judge said the stop-and-search was justified to protect the public. Calzone said something like "bull," and appealed.

Commercial Vehicle Law

In June 2013, the highway patrol officer pulled Calzone over because he did not recognize the truck or the markings displayed on the vehicle. The officer said Missouri law authorized inspections without probable cause.

On appeal to the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, Calzone argued the law was unconstitutional. David Roland, his attorney, said there was a mistake.

"The mistake made is that because Missouri law labels certain vehicles as commercial vehicles then they must be in the commercial industry," he said.

He said Calzone's truck was not used in a commercial industry, had a farm tag, and was restricted to a 50-mile radius of the farm. Roland said his client was not a commercial driver.

Commercial Mistake?

Peter Reed, representing the highway patrol, said public safety was the issue.

"The statute's interest is in limiting overweight commercial vehicles," Reed told the appeals panel. "I think my opponent makes a mistake by limiting it to commercial carriers."

He said Calzone was using the truck "to advance the commercial interests of his farm." In rebuttal, Courthouse News reported, Roland said the issue was suspicionless stops.

"And the Supreme Court has repeatedly said suspicionless stops are only for highly regulated industry," he said.

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