For Immediate Release: Contact: Dave Roland
June 4, 2015
Missouri Rancher Files Lawsuit to Hit the Brakes on Suspicionless Vehicle Stops
Mexico, Missouri—Ron Calzone, a rancher and small businessman who lives in the country near Rolla, Missouri, filed a lawsuit Wednesday asking a federal court to strike down a Missouri law that allows highway patrol officers to pull over and inspect commercial vehicles at any time, anywhere in the state, even if the officer has no reason whatsoever to believe that the vehicle or the driver are in violation of any law.
“One of my daughters needed gravel for her chicken coop, so I was going to pick some up with the dump truck I use to haul feed for the livestock on my ranch. I wasn’t speeding or violating any other law, but a highway patrolman pulled me over and demanded to inspect my truck.”
Indeed, the officer’s incident report confirms that the officer had not observed any violation of the law before deciding to pull Calzone over—the sole reason the officer gave for initiating the stop was that he “did not recognize the truck or the markings on the vehicle.” The officer told Calzone that state law explicitly authorizes certain government officials to stop and inspect any commercial vehicle, even if there is no reason to suspect any violation of the law; refusing to submit to an inspection is a criminal offense. The inspection the officer wished to conduct usually takes between twenty minutes and an hour to complete.
Calzone wasn’t happy about the delay he was facing, but as a passionate believer in constitutional principles he was more concerned with the blatant violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.
“The Constitution is supposed to protect citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures,” Calzone said. “My truck was clearly within size limitations and the bed was empty, so I wasn’t close to hitting any weight limitations, either—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.”
Calzone refused to consent to the inspection and the officer consequently charged him with a misdemeanor. The Phelps County Prosecutor later dismissed the charge when it became clear that Calzone intended to challenge the constitutionality of the statute. Calzone then called on the Freedom Center of Missouri for help.
“This statute is one of only two in the entire country that explicitly rejects the Fourth Amendment’s requirement for government officials to have probable cause to believe a crime is being committed before they can begin a non-consensual search or seizure of a driver and their vehicle,” explained Dave Roland, the Freedom Center’s director of litigation and the attorney representing Calzone in this case. “As much as it might like to, the state cannot legislate away citizens’ constitutional rights.”
Although courts have occasionally held that the Fourth Amendment will tolerate government checkpoints where the intrusion into citizens’ liberty and privacy is carefully limited, the U.S. Supreme Court has for decades made clear that the same justifications do not apply to suspicionless stops made by roving law enforcement officers.
“For nearly 130 years the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that suspicionless searches are the very evil the Fourth Amendment was intended to stamp out because ‘they put the liberty of every person in the hands of every petty officer,’” Roland said. “With this case we intend to put the brakes on Missouri’s unjustifiable effort to intrude into citizens’ freedoms.”
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.
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[NOTE: To arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may call Dave Roland at (314) 604-6621.]