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FMCSR Week 7: Search & Detain

Any person drawing breath in the United States can affirm the litigious nature of our society.  Though sometimes abused, the ability to levy civil remedies when constitutional rights have been violated is an important piece of our justice system.  Police officers know this.  The adversarial nature of the job coupled with privileged authority yields lawsuits, for right or wrong.  Improper search and seizure is one the most common civil rights violations police officers are accused of.   This article will explain why enforcement of the FMCSR by local police officers is a 4th amendment search, and why the ITEA believes it is improper.

When a local police officer performs an inspection for violations of the FMCSR, he is conducting an unlawful search.  It does not matter if he is directly citing the FMCSR, shoehorning the FMCSR into the Illinois Vehicle Code, or interpreting the IVC with FMCSR standards.  He is outside the scope of legal justification for the stop and is now searching for violations of a law which he has no authority to enforce. Mountains of case law can be presented to prove this position, with hours of discussion to provide a detailed, legal explanation this topic.

If there is a police officer convinced of a contrary opinion and believes local police have legal justification to stop, detain, search and cite (directly, indirectly, or by reference) for violations of the FMCSR, the burden of proof is on him.  Assuming he can name the case(s) that would lead a reasonable person to believe local Illinois police officers have the authority to investigate and enforce the FMCSR, they should have no problem finding case law to support these statements:

  1. Name the case which justifies local Illinois police officers asking for consent to search for FMCSR violations.

  2. Name the case which justifies local Illinois police officers to expand the scope of the stop and detain a driver beyond a reasonable amount of time to investigate violations of the FMCSR.

  3. Name the case and/or legal exemption by the United Supreme Court which justifies a warrantless search by a local Illinois police officer to search for violations of the FMCSR.

  4. Name the case that preempts the constitutional rights of truckers as it pertains to local police searching for FMCSR violations, but leaves other searches for drugs, weapons, and contraband to the scrutiny of current case law.

The fact is there are no cases to provide local Illinois police officers with any of these authorities, therefore it is absurd to think local police can somehow continue beyond the scope of the stop to go on a fishing expedition for FMCSR violations.  Any evidence gained thru an illegal search is fruit of the poisonous tree.  The detainment of the driver is an illegal seizure.  Whatever improperly cited criminal case is now void and the officer could be subject to a civil rights accusation.  The Constitution has a purpose.

A proactive and progressive police agency continually trains its officers on current case law regarding search and seizure.  Many different prosecutorial organizations offer newsletters with these cases.  There is monthly online training available to law enforcement about current search and seizure case law.  It is a big deal…big judgments are handed out when rights are violated.  Since 2003, police officers in Illinois have had to record statistical data on every traffic stop, including searches.

Police officers are not lawyers.  It is difficult in real-time, dynamic situations to fully employ every tenant and rule of law regarding searches.  Good police officers keep abreast of new case law, and do their best.  They do what is reasonable.  They do what is fair.  They do what is right.  The vast majority of local police officers in Illinois are doing these things.

Trucks are motor vehicles just like cars.  The Illinois State Police, as the statutory authority over FMCSR enforcement, have the unique and singular right to stop trucks and trailers to conduct searches for violations of the FMCSR.  The rest of Illinois law enforcement must abide by other statutes and pertinent case law…and what is good for cars is good for trucks.  It’s foolish to think that somehow truck drivers are held to a lesser standard of constitutional protection than car drivers when it comes to searches.

The ITEA has done the research.  Many lawyers for prosecution and defense have been consulted, and when they are presented with the facts (not rationalizations), they immediately render the practice as poor policework…at best.  Next week the role of the police as community caretakers will be examined and what that means for local enforcement of the FMCSR.

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