PA: Commercial truck inspections coming into a landfill were valid under Burger

Pennsylvania State Police and environmental inspectors set up a roadblock into a landfill to inspect commercial trucks. In defendant’s truck they found some beer, and he was charged with DWI and “unlawful activities.” The stop and inspect of defendant’s truck was valid under Burger. Commonwealth v. Maguire, 2017 PA Super 351, 2017 Pa. Super. LEXIS 895 (Nov. 8, 2017) (dissent):

Applying the rationale set forth in Petroll, we conclude that the statute pursuant to which inspectors stopped Maguire’s vehicle, Section 4704(a)(2), easily satisfies the first prong of the Burger test. The Supreme Court in Petroll analyzed Section 4704(a)(2) and concluded that it is part of a statutory scheme that regulates the trucking industry and “advances a substantial government interest” of ensuring road safety. This statutory scheme also furthers the regulatory scheme by ensuring that individuals and businesses in the trucking industry meet the standards set by the Department of Transportation.

We also conclude that the systematic vehicle inspection program set forth in Section 4704(a)(2) meets the second prong of the Burger test by advancing the regulatory scheme. In particular, the systematic vehicle inspection program advances the government interest by removing unsafe vehicles from the roadways before accidents occur. Petroll 738 A.2d at 1003.

We conclude further that Section 4704(a)(2) satisfies the third prong, as the statute is sufficiently specific to provide a constitutionally adequate substitute to the warrant requirement, i.e., it advises the operator of a commercial vehicle that the regulatory search is being made pursuant to the law, it has a properly defined scope, and it limits the discretion of inspecting officers.

In particular, the statute limits the discretion of the inspecting officers by specifying the objects subject to the systematic inspection program—any vehicle, driver, documents, equipment, and load. It also identifies the purpose of the inspection—to ensure that vehicles meet established regulatory standards.

Thus, we conclude that this statute, on its face, is “sufficiently comprehensive and defined” so that a commercial truck driver is informed that his truck may be subject to periodic administrative inspections undertaken to ensure that the truck complies with DOT regulations and is road-safe. Burger, 482 U.S. at 703; see Petroll, 738 A.2d at 1004.

Trooper Beaver’s uncontradicted testimony at the suppression hearing supports this conclusion as it provided an understanding of the limits on the system of inspection and the lack of discretion the inspectors had in selecting which trucks to inspect. Trooper Beaver testified that the PSP and the DEP scheduled the instant inspection at least a month prior to the inspection at the Clinton County Landfill. He further testified that, as permitted in the statute, it was only the PSP and DEP administrative inspectors who conducted the inspections. He also testified to the limited scope of his inspection. Specifically, he testified that he conducted a “level two inspection,” which entailed a walk-around inspection of the truck’s “[l]ights, horn, wipers, the tires, the condition of the tires, the tires’ inflation, whether there [are] any flat tires, the wheel condition, the safety inspection[,]” as well as Maguire’s documents. N.T., 3/14/16, at 10.

Trooper Beaver also described the process by which the Team selected the trucks to inspect. Simply, if an inspector was available when the truck arrived at the landfill, one of the inspectors inspected it. If the inspectors were unavailable because they were inspecting other trucks, the truck was not inspected. We find that this system for selecting trucks to inspect sufficiently limits the discretion of the inspectors and meets the third element of Burger.

For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that the administrative inspection at issue here satisfied the Burger test. Consequently, the trial court erred in suppressing the evidence obtained as a result of the warrantless administrative inspection. Burger, 482 U.S. at 716 (holding that a valid administrative search without a warrant that uncovers evidence of a crime does not violate the Fourth Amendment.).

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