Vehicle enforcement officers authority to investigate and arrest includes beyond vehicle safety regulations: MEGHOO V. COM. (SC 2/21/2008)

CRIMINAL:  Search & Seizure; Vehicle Enforcement Officers
DATE RENDERED: 2/21/2008

SC granted discretionary review to resolve questions as to the permissible scope of safety inspections by vehicle enforcement officers, and the authority of those officers to investigate and arrest for offenses that are not within the immediate scope of motor vehicle carrier safety statutes and regulations.   KRS 281.765 provides that vehicle enforcement officers, who are considered "special officers" under the statute, are to enforce the provisions of Chapter 281 relating to motor carriers, and enforce "any other law relating to motor vehicles" without a warrant if the offense is committed in the officer’s presence and with warrant or summons if it is not committed in the officer’s presence.

In this case, once the vehicle enforcement officers established a reasonable suspicion based on the documents that other violations of law might be occurring, they were entitled to bring in the drug-sniffing dog for the exterior of the vehicle so long as there was not any unreasonable delay.’ The officers were entitled to conduct an investigation "reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the interference in the first place. SC found no limitations in KRS 218A.765 to prevent the vehicle enforcement officers from employing drug-sniffing dogs for the exterior of commercial vehicles. SC’s only concern was whether the drug dog was used to sniff the vehicle while Meghoo was lawfully detained. SC concluded that the officers were still conducting a warranted investigation within a reasonable time. Probable cause was properly based on the dog’s alert because an exterior canine sniff does not constitute a search for Fourth Amendment purposes.

Under KRS 431 .005(1)(c) the arrest was proper. Vehicle enforcement officers are special officers appointed by the Department of Transportation and, as the above statute shows, are considered "peace officers" in this Commonwealth. KRS 431.005(1)(c) provides that a peace officer may make an arrest without a warrant when he has probable cause to believe that the person being arrested has committed a felony. Once the vehicle enforcement officers had probable cause from the dog’s alert that Meghoo had committed a felony offense, they were not required to look away just because their normal purview consists of traffic violations. SC found no limitations on the vehicle enforcement officers’ jurisdiction in KRS 281.765 limiting their authority to arrest when they have probable cause under KRS 431.005(1)(c).

Digested by Scott C. Byrd

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