On June 3, 2013, Ron Calzone was driving his farm truck to gather gravel for his daughter’s chicken coop when a Missouri State Highway Patrol officer pulled him over. Had Calzone been speeding? Did he change lanes improperly? No. The officer admitted that he had not observed any violation of the law. So why had he pulled Calzone over?
Because he could. Missouri law authorizes highway patrol officers to stop and inspect almost any kind of vehicle on Missouri’s highways and interstates “with or without probable cause” to believe that any violation of the law has taken place. The officer who stopped Calzone had unfettered discretion in choosing which vehicle he wanted to stop and search. Furthermore, the government argued (and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed!) that citizens waive their Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures simply by getting behind the wheel of any vehicle state law labels as a “commercial motor vehicle.” That just so happens to include not only every half-ton pickup truck in the state (regardless of how it is used), but also sweeps in compact- or economy-class cars that are regularly used to carry “merchandise.”
The Freedom Center believes that the Eighth Circuit’s decision effectively nullifies the Fourth Amendment for a huge number of drivers, and that it directly conflicts with the U.S. Supreme Court’s earlier cases regarding the so-called “closely regulated industry” exception to the Fourth Amendment’s protections. We have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take our Suspicionless Stops case for the purpose of answering two important questions:
1) Does the “closely regulated industry” exception to the Fourth Amendment apply to persons who have not chosen to involve themselves in any business connected with a closely regulated industry?
2) Does the Fourth Amendment allow executive or administrative officers in the field to exercise unlimited discretion as to whom the officers will subject to a warrantless search or seizure?
Although the Missouri Attorney General’s office initially chose to ignore our petition – perhaps hoping that the Supreme Court would do the same – our petition caught the eye of at least one of the nine justices. This led the Supreme Court to order the government to file a response to our petition, which they did on December 18, 2019.Highway-Patrol-Brief-in-Opposition
Of course, the government’s brief opposing our petition basically confirmed what we had said – the lower courts (and particularly the Eighth Circuit) are confused about the proper scope of the Fourth Amendment’s protections and they need clarification! On January 7, 2020, we filed a reply brief that hammered this point home.Calzone-Reply-Brief-in-Support-of-Cert
The U.S. Supreme Court will hold a conference on Friday, January 24, at which the justices will consider our case (among many, many others) and decide whether the issues we have raised are important enough to warrant full consideration. In order to get that full consideration, four of the nine justices have to agree that the case should be heard, and in recent years the Supreme Court only grants between 70 and 90 cases each year out of many thousands of petitions submitted from all over the country. The court usually issues a list of grants and denials the Monday after each Friday conference, so we hope very soon to know whether our Suspicionless Stops case has made the grade.
UPDATE: On January 27, 2020, the Supreme Court announced that it would not review this case. The case is now concluded, but the Freedom Center will continue looking for new ways to advance citizens’ Fourth Amendment protections in state and federal courts.