By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | Monday, August 05, 2013
One Minnesota State Patrol supervisor says troopers are allowed to enforce overweight restrictions after the fact by looking at private grain elevator receipts.
A farmer and CDL-holder, however, recently challenged his $1,400 overweight citation – after police combed through his grain elevator receipts – and won.
Greg Herden is a farmer from Brockway, Mont., and OOIDA member who trucks his agricultural products in the upper Midwest.
In fall 2012, Minnesota State Patrol troopers working in the department’s civil weights enforcement division looked through receipts at CHS Elevator in Erskine, Minn. They found receipts from Sept. 24 and Sept. 27 that the state alleged showed three overweight loads of grain were hauled.
Herden’s mail soon included a fine for $1,474 for driving over Minnesota’s gross vehicle weight limits.
Herden, who represented himself in court, said no weight limits exist for private roads in Minnesota and said troopers couldn’t prove his truck traveled on a federal or state highway – a fact the state agreed it could not prove.
Last week, on Aug. 1, Herden received a letter from Minnesota’s Ninth Judicial District saying a judge had ruled in his favor.
“The Court has reviewed maps of the Erskine area and is not able to verify that a state highway must be traveled to reach the grain elevator in Erskine, nor does it have any information as to where the Defendant farms,” the judge wrote. “Given this, the Court finds that the DPS has failed to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the Defendant is liable for the overweight penalties.”
The judge did not agree with Herden’s argument that the civil weight statutes violate the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution – specifically Herden’s claim that his receipts were a private record.
Though the $1,474 in fines were worth fighting, Herden said he fought the enforcement for a larger reason.
“Nobody wants to pay a fine, but that’s not what it was about,” Herden said. “I don’t agree with them going into these places and going through private paperwork. For crying out loud, they’re the state. We don’t know what they’re going to do with the information they’re gathering.”
Herden had hoped the court would rule that Minnesota’s method for obtaining evidence through private scale receipts was illegal.
“I don’t think it’s legal, and if it was legal – they would have fined me for it,” Herden said, adding that he thinks the judge in the case avoided deciding the case’s toughest point.
“They’re skirting around the real issue,” he said.
Lt. Bruce Verdoes, a Minnesota State Patrol trooper who oversees civil weights enforcement, said state statute allows troopers to investigate weight violations after the fact through receipts from private scales at dairies, grain elevators and elsewhere.
In fact, Verdoes said, commercial vehicle divisions from law enforcement organizations elsewhere have inquired about using the enforcement technique in their own states.
Verdoes said roadside inspections cover a multitude of safety checks, including axle placement, brake conditions and others.
Civil weight inspections looks only at gross vehicle weight, Verdoes told Land Line, which limit a truck driver’s possible number of citations. The state’s 100 or so inspectors fan out across Minnesota’s 87 counties, and can more rapidly enforce civil weight restrictions by visiting cooperatives, grain elevators and creamery’s to inspect records after the fact.
How does the state know whether the driver in question was actually overweight merely by looking at receipts?
“It’s the duty of the cooperative, or the elevator and the people that work there who are weighing what they’re weighing – it’s their obligation to get the right information,” Verdoes said. “We establish a list of license plates we use to track loads. We can say ‘ABC Company’ visited so many times in a 12-month period.”
Asked if state troopers believed seeing an overweight truck and trailer would be preferred to looking at receipts, Verdoes didn’t mince words.
“To tell you the truth – yeah, I prefer (receipts),” Verdoes said, “because we can go in and check a lot of weights in a short amount of time.”
That method compared to pulling trucks over also benefits truck drivers, Verdoes said, because civil enforcement of agricultural loads typically doesn’t begin until a load is at least 10 percent overweight.
Verdoes said every private scale the civil weights division inspects for overweight commercial vehicles is certified through the state’s weights and measures division of the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
“We verify that they’re certified,” Verdoes said.
Verdoes welcomed questions about Minnesota’s civil weights enforcement for commercial vehicles to his office at 651-405-6196.
“Since you have so many readers, if they have questions or need assistance – have them call us,” Verdoes said.
In 2011, OOIDA and OOIDA Member Stephen House won a long-fought courtroom battle that barred Minnesota State Patrol from using a “fatigue checklist” while observing commercial vehicle drivers on the side of the road. The ruling also resulted in hundreds of expunged tickets.
For his part, Herden said he is curious how often Minnesota uses grain elevator or dairy receipts for enforcement.
“I’m just a nobody – just one person,” Herden said. “But imagine if you apply this to some of these big manufacturers. That could be a huge number of cases.”
Still, Herden said he’s glad he fought the case. Herden hopes his story will encourage others to stand up against what he believes is improper investigative techniques by police.
“I know I’m not the only one,” Herden said. “There are a lot of people like me. If we don’t stand up for ourselves, they’re gonna run over us.”
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