PA SUPREME COURT: OPERATORS OF COMMERCIAL MOTOR VEHICLES HAVE A LESSER EXPECTATION OF PRIVACY THAN THE GENERAL PUBLIC

The PA Supreme Court has recently decided the case of Commonwealth v. Maguire, No. 41 MAP 2018 (Pa. August 22, 2019),holding that statutorily authorized warrantless inspections of commercial vehicles do not need to comply with the Tarbert/Blouse guidelines (which gauge the constitutionality of safety checkpoints to which the entire public are subjected); rather, they are to be scrutinized in accord with the less-stringent test for the warrantless inspection of commercial motor vehicles outlined by the United States Supreme Court in New York v. Burger482 U.S. 691 (1987), and adopted by this Court in Commonwealth v. Petroll 738 A.2d 993 (Pa. 1999).

In Commonwealth v. Tarbert, 535 A.2d 1035 (Pa. 1987) (plurality), and Commonwealth v. Blouse, 611 A.2d 1177 (Pa. 1992), the PA Supreme Court adopted guidelines for assessing the constitutionality of government-conducted systematic vehicle checkpoints to which the entirety of the public are subjected. After examining whether the Tarbert/Blouse guidelines were applicable to statutorily authorized warrantless inspections of commercial vehicles, as in Maguire’s case, the Court held that those guidelines are inapplicable in assessing the constitutionality of statutorily authorized warrantless inspections of commercial vehicles; instead, such inspections should be scrutinized in accord with the test outlined by the United States Supreme Court in New York v. Burger482 U.S. 691 (1987), and adopted by this Court in Commonwealth v. Petroll, 738 A.2d 993 (Pa. 1999).

In Maguire’s case, the Pennsylvania State Police and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) set up a commercial vehicle inspection program at a landfill, authorized by Subsection 4704(a)(2) of the Vehicle Code regarding the systematic inspection of commercial motor vehicles.

During the inspection process, a Trooper stopped a vehicle being operated by Maguire and detected the smell of alcohol on Maguire’s breath. Following the vehicle inspection, the Trooper asked Maguire to exit the truck, told him that he smelled of alcohol, and asked whether he had been drinking. Maguire stated that he drank one beer on his trip to the landfill. He also admitted to having beer in a cooler on the floor of the vehicle. Maguire was asked to perform field sobriety testing, which he failed. He was subsequently arrested for multiple counts of DUI and other unlawful activities. 

Maguire filed a Motion to Suppress the evidence garnered during the stop, arguing that the inspection scheme did not comply with the Tarbert/Blouse guidelines which, according to Maguire, also applied to the commercial vehicle inspection program to which he was subjected. The trial court agreed. The Commonwealth appealed, and the Superior Court reversed the trial court’s order that granted the suppression. Maguire then appealed to the PA Supreme Court.

In affirming the Superior Court’s judgment, the PA Supreme Court reasoned that the “Tarbert/Blouse guidelines test the constitutionality of government-conducted checkpoints to which all drivers are subjected. Conversely, the Burger/Petroll test is designed to examine the constitutionality of statutorily authorized government inspections that are aimed at and limited to closely regulated industries, which have a lesser expectation of privacy than the public generally.”

The Court went on to say that “it is indisputable that the government inspection authorized by Subsection 4704(a)(2) and which took place in this case was aimed at the trucking business, which is a closely regulated industry.”

As such, the Court concluded that the constitutionality of inspections conducted pursuant to statutorily authorized government inspections of commercial vehicles, is to be measured by the less stringent three-factor Burger/Petroll test. To be more specific, the “warrantless searches of closely regulated businesses will be deemed reasonable if: (1) there is a substantial government interest that informs the regulatory scheme pursuant to which the inspection was made; (2) warrantless inspections are necessary to further that regulatory scheme; and (3) the statute’s inspection program, in terms of the certainty and regularity of its application, provides a constitutionally adequate substitute for a warrant.”

CASE LINK:

Commonwealth v. Maguire, No. 41 MAP 2018 (Pa. August 22, 2019)

http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Supreme/out/J-11-2019mo%20-%2010411439675865483.pdf?cb=1

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