Eighth Circuit Revives Missouri Rancher’s Challenge to Suspicionless Vehicle Stops
Mexico, Missouri—The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals today revived a lawsuit in which Ron Calzone, a rancher and small businessman who lives in the country near Rolla, Missouri, is challenging a Missouri law that allows highway patrol officers to seize and search vehicles even if the officer has no reason whatsoever to believe that the vehicle or the driver are in violation of any law. The Eighth Circuit’s ruling reverses a prior ruling by Judge Stephen Limbaugh, Jr., and sends the case back to Judge Limbaugh for further consideration.
On May 3, 2013, Calzone was taking his large farm truck to gather gravel for his daughter’s chicken coop when Corporal J.L. Keathley of the Missouri State Highway Patrol pulled him over and asked to inspect the vehicle. The officer acknowledged that he had not observed Calzone breaking the law in any way and that he had stopped Calzone simply because he “did not recognize the truck or the markings on the vehicle.” When Calzone protested, the trooper pointed out that state statute expressly authorizes highway patrol officers to stop almost any type of vehicle “with or without probable cause to believe” that the vehicle or driver is in violation of the law.
“The Constitution is supposed to protect citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures,” Calzone said. “My truck was clearly within size limitations, the bed was empty, and in fact the truck had just passed a state inspection that very morning. So this was the very definition of an unreasonable search and seizure, and I knew that if citizens fail to stand up for their constitutional rights, they will wake up one day to find they no longer have any rights.”
With help from the Freedom Center of Missouri, Calzone sued, arguing that the statute authorizing suspicionless stops violated the Fourth Amendment. The government responded that anyone driving what Missouri law defines as a “commercial vehicle” is part of the “commercial trucking industry,” and that the Fourth Amendment’s protections do not apply because commercial trucking is a “pervasively regulated industry.” Calzone pointed out that under Missouri law every half-ton pickup truck is, by definition, a commercial vehicle and that neither Freedom Center of Missouri—Eighth Circuit Victory and Remand Press Release August 7, 2017 Page Two he nor many of the other ordinary people who regularly drive what the state calls “commercial vehicles” could justifiably be considered professional commercial truckers.
Judge Limbaugh initially ruled in favor of the government, but today the Eighth Circuit reversed that decision. The case will be sent back to the federal district court to determine whether the challenged statute is being applied in a manner that complies with the Fourth Amendment.
“Missouri’s highways and interstates are full of trucks and vans that the state defines as ‘commercial motor vehicles,’ even if the drivers have never been professional commercial truckers,” explained Dave Roland, the director of litigation for the Freedom Center. “We are confident that the courts will conclude that ordinary drivers do not abandon their Fourth Amendment freedoms just by getting behind the wheel of a large vehicle.”
Founded in November 2010, the Freedom Center of Missouri is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to research, litigation, and education in defense of individual liberty and constitutionally limited government. The Freedom Center is one of Missouri’s leading legal advocates for the constitutional protection of property rights and privacy. Additional information about the Freedom Center’s mission, cases, and activities can be found online at www.mofreedom.org.