Federal Judge: Fourth Amendment Does Not Protect Drivers From Suspicionless Stops

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Commentary, Press Releases, Property Rights

On July 28, 2016, Judge Stephen Limbaugh ruled that the Fourth Amendment does not prevent Missouri Highway Patrol officers from pulling over any vehicle, at any time, and at any place in the state, even if the officer has no reason to believe the driver or vehicle are in violation of any laws.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has never authorized law enforcement officials to conduct roving, suspicionless stops of drivers,” explained Dave Roland, director of litigation for the Freedom Center of Missouri. “We will appeal this decision to the Eighth Circuit.”

The case involved a 2013 traffic stop in which a Missouri Highway Patrol officer pulled over Ron Calzone, a Missouri rancher driving an empty dump truck to pick up gravel for his daughter’s chicken coop, and demanded to inspect the vehicle simply because the officer did not recognize the markings on it.  After the officer confirmed that he had no basis for suspecting that either Calzone or the vehicle were in violation of any laws, Calzone refused to allow the inspection because he believed that the officer lacked any constitutional authority to make such a demand.  The officer responded that Missouri law specifically permitted him to pull over vehicles “with or without probable cause” to believe that any law was being violated.

The officer cited Calzone for a misdemeanor offense of “opposing a member of the Missouri Highway Patrol in the proper discharge of his duties,” although the prosecutors dropped the criminal charges when Calzone (representing himself) seemed likely to win an acquittal.  Calzone then teamed up with the Freedom Center of Missouri to go on offense and to have the practice of suspicionless traffic stops ruled unconstitutional.

“The law at issue here is just a modern echo of the writs of assistance and general warrants that the British used against American colonists,” Calzone said. “The Founding generation despised being subject to warrantless, suspicionless government seizures and searches, which is why the Fourth Amendment generally prohibits them.”

A copy of Judge Limbaugh’s opinion is included below. The Freedom Center expects the Eighth Circuit to address this appeal in early 2017.