Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ponce: Georgia Commercial Vehicle Inspection Is Valid

In U.S. v. Ponce-Aldona, No. 08-13144 (Aug. 12, 2009), the Court rejected a Fourth Amendment challenge to a "safety checkpoint" stop of the defendant’s truck.
Georgia police set up a safety checkpoint at an exit to I-85 northbound, to pull over commercial vehicles for inspection. Officers spotted the defendant driving a truck who appeared to notice the officers and then bypassed the exit. The officers stopped and searched the truck and found cocaine. Ponce challenged the search under the Fourth Amendment.
The Court held that the search fell within the administrative search exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment. The Court explained that an administrative inspection of a closely regulated business is a well-established exception to the warrant requirement for a search. The Court found that the Georgia inspection program adequately advised that searches would be made on a regular basis and were not merely discretionary. The regulations provided that Department of Motor Vehicle enforcement officers were authorized to stop and inspect commercial motor vehicles. Further, the discretion of the inspecting officers was adequately limited because only DMVS officers could inspect, and inspections are limited to public highways, searches are limited to the cargo area and documents of commercial vehicles. Further, time and place restrictions are not feasible because trucks could easily avoid fixed checkpoints. The Court noted that for this inspection, all commercial vehicles that passed by the checkpoint without stopping were more likely than not going to be pulled over and inspected.