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Commonwealth v. Maguire

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

November 8, 2017


         Appeal from the Order Entered March 22, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Clinton County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-18-CR-0000396-2015

          BEFORE: LAZARUS, J., STABILE, J. and DUBOW, J.


          DUBOW, J.

         The Commonwealth appeals from the March 22, 2016 Order, entered in the Clinton County Court of Common Pleas, granting the Motion to Suppress Evidence filed by Appellee, Jeffrey Maguire ("Maguire") in which Maguire sought to suppress evidence inspectors obtained without a warrant from an inspection of his commercial vehicle conducted during a systematic vehicle inspection program.[1] Because we find that the Tarbert/Blouse[2] guidelines do not apply to the inspection of the commercial vehicle in this case and the warrantless inspection meets the requirements of New York v. Burger, 482 U.S. 691 (1987), and its progeny, we reverse.

         In April 2015, the Pennsylvania State Police ("PSP") and the Department of Environmental Protection ("DEP") organized a joint program, pursuant to 75 Pa.C.S. § 4704(a)(2) ("Section 4704(a)(2)"), to inspect commercial vehicles at the Clinton County Landfill in Wayne Township.[3]

         On May 20, 2015, PSP Trooper Corey Beaver, a Motor Carrier Enforcement Officer, and a Motor Carrier Enforcement Supervisor, went to the landfill to conduct inspections of commercial vehicles at the landfill. See Trial Court's Findings of Fact, 3/22/16, at ¶¶ 1-9.

         The inspection officers established a procedure whereby each officer, as he or she became available, would stop the next truck entering the landfill. Id. at 10.

         Trooper Beaver was in a marked patrol car when Maguire arrived in a commercial vehicle, a tri-axle dump truck. Trooper Beaver exited his vehicle and motioned for Maguire to pull into the lot where the officers were conducting the inspections. Trooper Beaver asked Maguire for his documents. While speaking with Maguire, Trooper Beaver smelled the odor of an alcoholic beverage emanating from his breath.

         Maguire provided Trooper Beaver with the necessary documents, and Trooper Beaver conducted a "Level Two" inspection, which, in addition to a review of the documents, included an inspection of lights, horn, wipers, tires, wheel condition, and safety equipment. Id. at ¶¶ 15-20.

         After the inspection, Trooper Beaver asked Maguire to exit the vehicle, which Maguire did. Trooper Beaver asked Maguire if Maguire had been drinking and advised Maguire that Trooper Beaver detected the odor of alcohol.

         Maguire responded that he "drank a beer" on his way over to the Landfill. Trooper Beaver observed a cooler on the floor of the truck, in front of the gearshift, and asked Maguire about the contents. Maguire responded that it contained water and beer. The cooler contained three 12-ounce cans of Busch Light beer and a few water bottles. Id. at ¶¶ 21-27.

         Trooper Beaver then conducted field sobriety testing on Maguire. Maguire failed two of the three tests. Trooper Beaver then transported Maguire to the hospital for blood testing. Id. at ¶¶ 29-31; N.T. Suppression Hearing, 5/13/16, at 12.

         Following this incident, the Commonwealth charged Maguire, a commercial truck driver, with five counts of Driving Under the Influence and five counts of Unlawful Activities.[4]

         Maguire filed a pretrial Suppression Motion, arguing that the Tarbert/Blouse guidelines applied to a commercial vehicle inspection and since the inspection in this case failed to meet those guidelines, the inspection of Maguire's truck was unconstitutional.[5]

         On March 14, 2016, the trial court conducted a hearing on Maguire's Motion to Suppress, following which it granted the motion. The trial court, relying on this Court's holding in Commonwealth v. Garibay, 106 A.3d 136 (Pa. Super. 2014), expanded the scope of the Tarbert/Blouse guidelines to include an inspection of a commercial vehicle. See Trial Ct. Op., 3/22/16, at 6 (unpaginated). The trial court concluded that since the inspection at issue did not meet the standards set forth in Tarbert/Blouse, the inspection was unconstitutional and suppressed the evidence of Maguire's alcohol consumption.

         The Commonwealth timely appealed and presents the following issues for our review:

1. Do the Tarbert/Blouse guidelines apply to commercial vehicle inspections conducted pursuant to 75 Pa.C.S.[] § 4704, particularly where commercial vehicle inspections are part of a highly regulated industry exception to the warrant requirement?
2. Did the trial court err because after State Police stopped Maguire's commercial vehicle to conduct a lawful commercial vehicle inspection, the State Police had probable cause to believe Maguire was operating his commercial vehicle under the influence of alcohol because an odor or alcohol emanated from Maguire?

         Commonwealth's Brief at 4.

         When we review the grant of a Motion to Suppress, we consider "only the evidence from the defendant's witnesses along with the Commonwealth's evidence that remains uncontroverted." Commonwealth v. Guzman, 44 A.3d 688, 691-92 (Pa. Super. 2013). Our standard of review is restricted to whether the record supports the suppression court's factual findings. With respect to legal conclusions, however, we conduct de novo review. Id.

         Since the only evidence in this case was that of Trooper Beaver and his testimony was not contradicted, there are no relevant facts in dispute. Therefore, the issues on appeal are purely legal issues and our standard of review is de novo. See Commonwealth v. Beaman, 880 A.2d 578, 581 (Pa. 2005); Guzman, supra.

         It is well-settled that the Tarbert/Blouse guidelines apply to checkpoints established to inspect non-commercial vehicles pursuant to 75 Pa.C.S. § 6308(b).[6] See Garibay, supra; In re J.A.K., 908 A.2d 322 (Pa. Super. 2006). We now consider whether the Tarbert/Blouse guidelines also apply to an inspection of a commercial vehicle that is conducted pursuant to a systematic vehicle inspection program.

         The Commonwealth argues that the trial court erred in expanding the Tarbert/Blouse guidelines to inspections of commercial vehicles because commercial vehicle inspections fall within the closely regulated industry exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement as enumerated in Burger. Commonwealth's Brief at 12, 19. We agree.

         The United States Supreme Court in Burger recognized an exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement for administrative inspections in "closely regulated" businesses. The Court held that an owner or operator of a commercial business or vehicle in a closely regulated industry has a substantially reduced expectation of privacy. Thus, the Fourth Amendment warrant and probable cause requirements applicable in the context of a pervasively regulated[7] business are lower. See Burger, 482 U.S. at 699-702.

         The Burger Court also concluded that, in the context of a closely regulated business, warrantless inspections are constitutional if: (1) there is a "substantial governmental interest inform[ing] the regulatory scheme pursuant to which the inspection is made"; (2) the inspection is necessary to advance the regulatory scheme; and (3) the statute's inspection program is applied with such certainty and regularity as to provide a "constitutionally adequate substitute for a warrant." Burger, 482 U.S. at 702-703. The Court ultimately held that a valid administrative inspection without a warrant that uncovers evidence of a crime does not violate the Fourth Amendment. Id. at 716.

         The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in Commonwealth v. Petroll, 738 A.2d 993 (Pa. 1999) addressed the constitutionality of a warrantless search of a tractor-trailer after the driver of a tractor-trailer crashed into other vehicles, killing several individuals. The police conducted the search immediately after the accident and the search was not part of a systematic vehicle inspection program.

         The Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted the three-part test that the U.S. Supreme Court enunciated in Burger for a closely regulated business:

1. There must be a "substantial" government interest that informs the regulatory scheme pursuant to which the inspection is made;
2. The warrantless inspection must be "necessary to further the regulatory scheme"; and
3. The statute's inspection program, in terms of the certainty and regularity of its application, must provide a constitutionally adequate substitute for a warrant. In other words, the regulatory statute must perform the two basic functions of a warrant: it must advise the owner of the commercial premises that the search is being made pursuant to the law ...

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