Expectation of Privacy for Commercial Drivers Less Than Those of Non-Commercial Drivers

Filed under: Criminal Law by Contributor @ November 15, 2017

On November 8, 2017, the Pennsylvania Superior Court determined that applying the Tarbert/Blouse guidelines is improper in cases involved with the traffic stop of a commercial vehicle and suppression of evidence related to that stop.

The PA Superior Court explained their holding in Commonwealth v. Maguire, No. 654 MDA 2016 (November 8, 2017).  The case was brought before the court after the Commonwealth appealed the lower court’s granting of the Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence of an inspection of his commercial vehicle that was obtained without a warrant. The lower court (Clifton County Court of Common Pleas) had applied guidelines articulated in Commonwealth v. Tarbert, 535 A.2d 1035 (Pa. 1987) (plurality); Commonwealth v. Blouse, 611 A.2d 1177 (Pa. 1992). Tarbert and Blouse created criteria that the Commonwealth must meet in order for a vehicle checkpoint to be deemed constitutional. The trial court granted the motion to suppress based on an unconstitutional inspection under the Tarbert/Blouse test.  Prior to this case, the Court had unequivocally determined that the guidelines did apply to checkpoints and inspection of non-commercial vehicles. However, on appeal, the Court determined that these guidelines did not apply to commercial vehicles that are inspected in conjunction with a systemic vehicle inspection program.

On May 20, 2015, Motor Carrier Enforcement Officers visited a landfill in Wayne Township, PA to conduct inspections of commercial vehicles. At the scene, the officers implemented a system where each available officer would stop the next truck entering the landfill for inspection. When Jeffrey Maguire, entered the landfill in his tri-axle dump truck, a Trooper exited his vehicle and motioned for Maguire to park in the area where inspections were taking place.  The Trooper then engaged in conversation with Maguire and asked for his documents. During this conversation, the Trooper smelled alcohol on Maguire’s breath. The Trooper reviewed Maguire’s documents and then proceeded to conduct a “Level Two” inspection. The inspection involved the truck’s lights, horn, wipers, tires, wheel condition and safety equipment. Upon the completion of the inspection, the Trooper requested Maguire exit the vehicle and asked him if he had been drinking. Maguire admitted that he had “drank a beer” on his way over to the landfill. During this interaction, the Trooper noticed a cooler of beer and water on the floor of the truck. Maguire then completed three field sobriety tests and failed two. Consequently, Maguire was taken to the hospital and received blood tests. Maguire was charged with five counts of DUI and five counts of Unlawful Activities. Prior to trial, Maguire filed a motion to suppress the evidence. Maguire argued that the Tarbert/Blouse requirements were applicable to commercial vehicles and, as such, the search and evidence were unconstitutional. The trial court granted his motion and on appeal the Superior Court reversed. As a result, the evidence was not suppressed.

Explaining their holding, the Superior Court implemented a three-part test. The test is highly similar to the U.S. Supreme Court’s test for closely regulated business.  The test consists of (1) the requirement of a substantial governmental interest that informs the regulatory scheme pursuant to which the inspection is made; (2) The warrantless inspection must be a “necessary” component to the regulatory scheme; and (3) the statute’s inspection program must include a constitutionally proficient replacement for a warrant. Essentially this decision means that the statute must instruct the owner of the commercial vehicle that the search is being conducted pursuant to that statute, the scope of the statute must be adequately defined, and the discretion of the officers conducting the search must be reasonably limited.

The Court’s decision in this case reduces the expectation of privacy afforded to the owner’s and drivers of commercial vehicles, an expectation less than those provided by the holdings in Tarbet/Blouse.

Should a driver’s expectation of privacy differ based on the vehicle they’re driving? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

To view the case, visit: http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Superior/out/26651062.pdf?cb=1

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