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COMMERCIAL MOTOR VEHICLE DRIVERS HAVE LOWER EXPECTATION OF PRIVACY THAN NON-COMMERCIAL VEHICLE DRIVERS

The PA Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Jeffery Charles Maguire, No. 654 MDA 2016 (November 8, 2017), holding that it was improper for the trial court to apply the Tarbert/Blouse guidelines to the stop of a commercial motor vehicle and suppression of evidence discovered during a systematic check was, therefore, not warranted.

Maguire was operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) that was stopped by PA State Troopers as part of a systematic check of CMVs entering a landfill. During the stop, the Trooper detected an odor of an alcoholic beverage about Maguire’s breath. He also observed a cooler inside the vehicle and, in response to his questioning, Maguire told him that it contained beer. Maguire also admitted to having consumed beer before driving. The Trooper asked Maguire to step from the vehicle and, after failing field sobriety tests, Maguire was charged with DUI and other offenses.

Maguire filed a pretrial Suppression Motion, arguing that Tarbert/Blouse guidelines apply to a commercial vehicle inspection and, since the inspection in this case failed to meet those guidelines, the inspection of Maguire’s truck was unconstitutional. Tarbert/Blouse  essentially articulate five criteria that the Commonwealth must satisfy in order for a vehicle checkpoint to meet constitutional muster with respect to the protection of privacy rights. The trial court concluded that since the inspection at issue did not meet the standards set forth in Tarbert/Blouse, the inspection was unconstitutional. Therefore, the trial court suppressed the evidence of Maguire’s alcohol consumption.

The Commonwealth appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in expanding the Tarbert/Blouse guidelines to inspections of commercial vehicles. Instead, commercial vehicle inspections fall within the closely regulated industry exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement as enumerated in New York v. Burger, 482 U.S. 691 (1987).  

The Superior Court noted that the PA Supreme Court has adopted the three-part test that the U.S. Supreme Court enunciated in Burger for a closely regulated business:

  1. There must be a “substantial” government interest that informs the regulatory scheme pursuant to which the inspection is made;
  2. The warrantless inspection must be “necessary to further the regulatory scheme”; and
  3. The statute’s inspection program, in terms of the certainty and regularity of its application, must provide a constitutionally adequate substitute for a warrant. In other words, the regulatory statute must perform the two basic functions of a warrant: it must advise the owner of the commercial premises that the search is being made pursuant to the law and has a properly defined scope, and it must limit the discretion of the inspecting officers.

While acknowledging that the Tarbert/Blouse guidelines apply to checkpoints established to inspect non-commercial vehicles, the Superior Court noted that the trucking industry is a closely regulated industry and businesses and individuals engaged in the trucking industry have a lower expectation of privacy than individual driving non-commercial vehicles. Thus, since these businesses and individuals have a lower expectation of privacy, the Tarbert/Blouse guidelines do not apply to inspections of commercial vehicles in the trucking industry.

After additional analysis, the Superior Court concluded that the administrative inspection at issue in Maguire’s case satisfied the Burger test. Consequently, the trial court erred in suppressing the evidence obtained as a result of the warrantless administrative inspection.

CASE LINK: http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Superior/out/26651062.pdf?cb=1

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