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If It’s Weird, It’s Wrong?

Ok, the title of this article is a total lie. Weird things are not always wrong, they are just different. If you use social media, your news feed is filled with the bizzare. Marketers use whacked out images and ludicrous stories to get you in front of their advertisers. What is odd intrigues the human mind. Some trucks are weird too, but they are not mere click-bait for police officers. The article this week will look at an out-of-the-ordinary truck and the incorrect police responses to it.

When rookie police officers first enter field training, they hit the street with a head full of knowledge their training officer just told them to forget. They believe everyone is going to kill them. Each driver or pedestrian they encounter is a threat and is treated as such.

After a few hundred traffic stops when nothing has gone really bad, they forget they represent the government and are under the color of law. Each and every traffic stop deprives the driver of his constitutional right to liberty. The right to not have government stop us as citizens is what separates America from the heathen nations of the world.

In Illinois truck enforcement world, local police officers learn the burden to stop trucks suspected of being overweight is far less than that of all other traffic law. It is a unique authority provided only for the investigation of weight, and cannot complacently be used “just to stop trucks”. You can read more about that HERE.

The complacency comes in when, after stopping and weighing many trucks, it seems okay to “stop trucks”. Veteran police officers are fully aware of the higher level of burdens of probable cause and reasonable suspicion to stop cars, but trucks?

Here’s a scenario: a small Ford Ranger pickup truck passes by a truck officer. In the bed of the truck is a stack of 20 wooden pallets, tied down by a nylon strap or two. The truck has Illinois B-truck plates good for 8,000 pounds.

Most truck officers have seen this setup. It looks absolutely ridiculous. It’s weird. But is it wrong? Does the evidence presented provide enough legal justification to make a traffic stop, thereby depriving the driver of his constitutional right to liberty?

“But, but, but, it’s overweight!” screams the truck officer with his 40-hour truck school diploma. If he generously gives the truck 4,000 pounds of empty weight and 1,300 pounds for the load, it’s not exceeding the registered weight of 8,000 pounds. It’s definitely not exceeding the gross weight of 40,000 pounds for a 2-axle vehicle or 20,000 pounds for a single axle. Therefore, using the doctrine of “reasonable to believe the vehicle is overweight” to justify the traffic stop is out the window. It’s still weird though.

“But, but, but it’s overheight!” exclaims the officer. The load may very well be towering over the top the truck, but that does not mean it’s not legal height. The bed height on a Ford Ranger is approximately 30” and 20 pallets at 5” high each brings the total to 10’10”, well short of the legal height of 13’6”. Oh, and by the way, a police officer cannot use the “reason to believe” burden to investigate size violations.

“But, but, but it’s exceeding the GVWR of the truck!” the same officer retorts. Maybe, but seeing as how the officer does not know what the GVWR is until the truck is lawfully stopped and the GVWR is inspected (which is a search requiring consent), he can’t make a stop predicated on this suspicion. Secondly, exceeding the GVWR is a pretty flimsy citation to issue and definitely cannot be shoe-horned into “reason to believe”.

“But, but, but, the load is unsecure!” Maybe, but under Illinois state law, the load has to actually be escaping. If the pallet falls off the truck, now that citation may be issued. It may very well be unsecure under federal law, but that is the prerogative of the Illinois State Police only. Local police officers have no authority to stop the truck based on a suspected federal regulation violation. Read more about that in a 10-part series HERE.

Examples like this can go on. And on. And on. Truck officers have a complicated job to do, but sometimes good old fashioned police methodology trumps the weird.

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