South Dakota supremes: trucker's arrest legal

| 8/13/2002

The South Dakota Supreme Court ruled Aug. 8 it was legal for a state trooper to arrest a trucker for drug possession after patting him down during a random stop when he admitted his logbook wasn't current.

Trucker Scott Rechtenbach was stopped Dec. 26, 2000, near St. Onge, SD, by state trooper Brian Swets. Swets, a canine officer whose primary job is drug interdiction, decided that day to instead pull over truckers and check their logbooks.

When Rechtenbach said his logbook was not current, the officer ordered him to get out of the truck. Swets patted him down and found a wire with white residue on it. Swets then had his dog sniff around the truck.

The officer said he found two glass pipes, a pill and a bottle containing alcohol in the truck. Rechtenbach was indicted for driving under the combined influence of drugs or alcohol and two counts of possession of a controlled substance.

The search was ruled unconstitutional by a circuit court judge, placing Rechtenbach's trail on hold until the state could appeal. The judge said warrantless searches of trucks are not allowed during random regulatory stops because there are not limits as to the time, place and scope of such searches.

But the state Supreme Court overruled the lower court 3-2 saying officers need the ability to randomly stop trucks because they can damage roads and endanger other traffic. The court noted that the trucking industry is highly regulated by both state and federal governments and truckers may be stopped for inspections at any time.

Roving searches of trucks should not be allowed, wrote dissenting Justice Robert A. Admundson. He said a random logbook check should not be turned into a fishing expedition for drugs.

"This is a case where a random stop was for the sole purpose of resolving the query, 'What should I do today to give Rufus, the drug dog, some exercise?" Admundson wrote.