Justia Transportation Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Defendant crashed his plane when he attempted to fly over Atigun Pass in the Brooks Range in Alaska. During both the investigation and Defendant’s appeal of the revocation of his airman certificate, Defendant claimed that the plane was climbing through 5,500 to 5,700 feet with a target altitude of 6,000 feet as it approached the pass. GPS data showed that the plane was flying at an altitude more than 1,000 feet lower than what Defendant claimed. The proceeding in Count One was the NTSB investigation. The proceeding in Count Two was the appeal before the NTSB of the FAA’s revocation of his airman certificate. Challenging his conviction on Count One, Defendant argued that the NTSB’s accident investigation was not a pending “proceeding” within the meaning of Section 1505.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed Defendant’s conviction on two counts of obstructing a pending proceeding and affirmed the district court’s assessment of a $5,000 fine. The panel wrote that even if it were not reviewing for plain error, it would affirm, holding that the NTSB’s investigation of Defendant’s plane crash was a “proceeding” within the meaning of Section 1505. The panel held that the district court did not err in instructing the jury on the materiality element. The panel held that the district court did not commit clear error in finding Defendant able to pay the $5,000 fine, as there was no evidence before the district court showing that Defendant was unable to pay the fine, or was likely become unable to pay it. View "USA V. FOREST KIRST" on Justia Law

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In 2015, the Pennsylvania State Police and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) set up a commercial vehicle inspection program authorized by Subsection 4704(a)(2) of the Vehicle Code. The inspection program was scheduled approximately one month in advance and occurred at a Clinton County landfill located in the Village of McElhatten. Appellant Jeffrey Maguire’s truck was stopped at the checkpoint by Pennsylvania State Police. The trooper conducted a “Level Two” inspection, which included a review of Appellant’s documents and a walk-around inspection of the truck, checking its lights, horn, wipers, tires, and wheels. During the course of this conversation, the trooper detected the smell of alcohol on Appellant’s breath. Following the inspection, the trooper had Appellant exit the truck, told him that he smelled of alcohol, and asked whether he had been drinking. Appellant stated that he drank one beer on his trip to the landfill. At that point, the trooper noticed a cooler on the floor of the truck near the gearshift, the contents of which were a yellow plastic bag that was wet from ice, three twelve-ounce cans of beer, and one or two bottles of water. Appellant failed field sobriety testing. Appellant was arrested, transported to the Jersey Shore Hospital for blood testing, and ultimately charged with several counts of driving under the influence (“DUI”), as well as five counts of unlawful activities. In Commonwealth v. Tarbert, 535 A.2d 1035 (Pa. 1987) (plurality), and Commonwealth v. Blouse, 611 A.2d 1177 (Pa. 1992), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted guidelines for assessing the constitutionality of government-conducted systematic vehicle checkpoints to which the entirety of the public are subjected. Before the Court in this case was the issue of whether the Tarbert/Blouse guidelines were applicable to statutorily authorized warrantless inspections of commercial vehicles. The Court determined they were not: such inspections should be scrutinized in accord with the test outlined by the United States Supreme Court in New York v. Burger, 482 U.S. 691 (1987), adopted in Pennsylvania in Commonwealth v. Petroll, 738 A.2d 993 (Pa. 1999). Because a panel of the Superior Court, in a two-to-one majority decision, reached the correct result, the Supreme Court affirmed that court’s judgment, which reversed a trial court’s order granting appellant’s motion to suppress evidence. View "Pennsylvania v. Maguire" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellee Ollisha Easley was onboard a Greyhound bus from Claremont, California, to her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, when the bus made a scheduled stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Greyhound passenger list showed that Easley’s reservation included a second woman identified as “Denise Moore” - both Easley and Denise Moore had one checked bag and both tickets were purchased with cash. No one named Denise Moore boarded the bus in California, but her suitcase was stowed in the luggage hold of the Greyhound and was identified with the same reservation number and telephone number as Easley’s luggage. While the bus was stopped in Albuquerque, Special Agent Jarrell Perry of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and his partner that day, Special Agent Scott Godier, observed the luggage in the bus’s cargo hold. Agent Perry later testified that the use of a so-called “phantom passenger” is a common method of narcotics trafficking. Ultimately, the agents identified the bags traveling with Easley, searched them and found small bags of methamphetamine in the Denise Moore bag. Easley denied ownership of the bag, denied knowing the bag's owner, and denied ever having seen the bag before. She would be indicted for possession with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine. Easley moved to suppress the evidence seized from the bag, and to exclude a confession she made to Agent Perry. The district court granted Easley’s motion holding that : (1) Easley had not established her bags were illegally searched while the bus was in the wash bay; (2) nor had she established that the bus was subject to an unreasonable investigatory detention; however, (3) under the totality of the circumstances, Easley had been illegally seized. The court found that Easley’s abandonment of the Denise Moore suitcase was the product of a Fourth Amendment violation, so it suppressed the evidence seized from the suitcase. The court also determined the earlier Fourth Amendment violation tainted Easley’s subsequent confession and suppressed her inculpatory statements. In reversing the district court's judgment, the Tenth Circuit concluded the agents’ search of the Denise Moore suitcase was a valid search of abandoned property; and there was preceding constitutional violation to taint Easley’s confession, suppression of her inculpatory statements. The parties did not brief or argue any other ground to support the district court’s decision on appeal, so the case was remanded to the district court to resolve the admissibility of Easley’s confession in the first instance. View "United States v. Easley" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the district court denying Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence resulting from a stop by an Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) Motor Vehicle Enforcement (MVE) officer, holding that the IDOT MVE lacked the authority to stop and arrest Defendant.The MVE in this case stopped Defendant for speeding in a construction zone. After determining that Defendant’s driver’s license had been revoked the MVE arrested Defendant and took him to jail. Defendant was convicted of driving while revoked. On appeal, Defendant argued that IDO MVE officers lacked authority at the time he was stopped to engage in general traffic enforcement under Iowa Code chapter 321 and that the stop and arrest could not be sustained as a citizen’s arrest under Iowa Code 804.9. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that today’s decision in Rilea v. Iowa Department of Transportation, __ N.W.2d ___ (Iowa 2018), required that Defendant’s conviction be vacated and this case remanded for further proceedings. View "State v. Werner" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held tha before May 11, 2017, Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) Motor Vehicle Enforcement (MVE) officers lacked authority to stop vehicles and issue speeding tickets or other traffic citations unrelated to operating authority, registration, size, weight, and load.In 2016, two motorists were separately cited by MVE officers for speeding in a construction zone. In declaratory order proceedings, the IDOT concluded that MVE officers possessed authority to stop vehicles and issue these citations. The district court reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, prior to May 11, 2017, IDOT peace officers were conferred only limited authority by chapter 321 of the Iowa Code to enforce violations relating to operating authority, registration, size, weight, and load of motor vehicles and trailers. View "Rilea v. Iowa Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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A local government has the authority under Fla. Stat. 316.0083(1)(a) to contract with a private third-party vendor to review and sort information from red light cameras, in accordance with the local government’s written guidelines, before sending that information to a trained traffic enforcement officer, who determines whether probable cause exists and a citation should be issued.Petitioner received a traffic citation based on images from a red light camera. Petitioner argued that the City of Aventura’s red light camera enforcement program was illegal because it included the use of a third-party agent to review images from the City’s red light cameras before sending them to City police to determine whether a traffic citation should be issued. The court of appeal held that the City did not violate the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Program, see Fla. Stat. 316.0083(1)(a), which grants local governments’ traffic enforcement officers the power to issue citations for traffic infractions captured by red light cameras. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the City did not exceed its statutory authority in contracting with a vendor to review the red light camera images and that the City’s use of its own standards for determining whether a traffic infraction has occurred did not violate the uniformity principle set forth in chapter 316. View "Jimenez v. State" on Justia Law

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An officer responding to a midnight single-vehicle collision saw an SUV on the edge of the road moving forward and backward; one tire was missing and the wheel’s rim and brake system were extensively damaged. Munro got out of the driver’s seat. The officer noticed he was “extremely unsteady,” that his breath smelled like alcohol, his eyes were red, and his speech was slurred. The officer asked Munro to lean against the patrol car. Munro refused, denied being the driver, and denied consuming alcohol. The officer attempted to conduct a field sobriety test, asking Munro to follow his pen with his eyes. Munro closed his eyes and stated that he would not take a chemical test. The officer arrested Munro on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. Before the Department of Motor Vehicles may suspend a driver’s license for refusal to submit to a chemical test to determine the alcohol content of his blood, the driver “shall be told [by the arresting officer] that ... failure to submit ... will result in ... the suspension of the person’s privilege to operate a motor vehicle" for one year. (Veh. Code 23612(a)(1)(D). The officer intended to read Munro the Admonition but Munro began kicking and trying to slip out of his handcuffs. Three officers placed Munro into a restraint The officer never read the Admonition. The court of appeal reversed Munro's suspension. An officer is not relieved of the duty to at least attempt to provide the Admonition when the suspected drunk driver engages in disruptive behavior. View "Munro v. Department of Motor Vehicles" on Justia Law

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American Sedan Services, Inc. is a commercial transportation service that has a permit from Maryland Aviation Administration (MAA) to provide ground transportation services at the Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI). Vadim Roshchin, who was employed as a driver by American Sedan, was picking up passengers at BWI without displaying the permit as required by an MAA regulation when Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) police arrested him and impounded the American Sedan. Roshchin and American Sedan sued MAA, MdTA, the MdTA police, and the State, alleging, among other claims, false arrest and false imprisonment. The circuit court granted summary judgment for the State on all counts. The Court of Special Appeals reversed, concluding that there was no legal justification for the arrest of Roshchin. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding (1) the regulation requiring commercial transportation services to display permits was not required to be posted at the airport as a prerequisite to its enforcement; and (2) there was legal justification for the arrest, as nothing in the MAA regulation or the Transportation Article deprives a police officer of the general authority to arrest an individual who commits a misdemeanor in the presence of the officer. View "State v. Roshchin" on Justia Law

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George, a 21-year old U.S. citizen, was scheduled to fly from Philadelphia to California to begin his senior year at Pomona College. George claims that at the Philadelphia International Airport, he was detained, interrogated, handcuffed, and then jailed, because he was carrying a deck of Arabic-English flashcards and a book critical of American interventionism. The flashcards included every day words and phrases such as “yesterday,” “fat,” “thin,” “really,” “nice,” “sad,” “cheap,” “summer,” “pink,” and “friendly,” but also contained such words as: “bomb,” “terrorist,” “explosion,” “attack,” “battle,” “kill,” “to target,” “to kidnap,” and “to wound.” George had a double major in Physics and Middle Eastern Studies and had traveled to Jordan to study Arabic as part of a study abroad program; he then spent five weeks traveling in Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan. He was released after about five hours. In his suit against three employees of the Transportation Security Administration and two FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force members, the district court’s denied motions in which the defendants asserted that they were entitled to qualified immunity against claims that they violated George’s Fourth and First Amendment rights. The Third Circuit reversed and ordered the case dismissed. View "George v. Rehiel" on Justia Law

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Columbus motorists reported a person driving erratically. One saw that the driver was a woman and that there was a child in the truck. Both witnessed the truck jump onto the median at least twice. One followed the truck, trying to help the police locate it. The truck crashed into a tree. At the scene, the police found Volpe, intoxicated and trapped behind the steering wheel. Volpe’s daughter, ejected from the truck, died days later from multiple injuries. Volpe was convicted on two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide (operating a vehicle while under the influence (OVI) and recklessly causing her daughter’s death), each with a specification that she had been convicted of three or more OVI or equivalent offenses within the last six years, and of OVI with a specification that she had been convicted of five or more equivalent offenses within the last 20 years. Volpe received a total prison term of 20 years and six months. She argued that convictions of both OVI, Ohio Rev. Code 4511.19(A)(1)(a), and aggravated vehicular homicide as a proximate result of OVI, 2903.06(A)(1)(a), violated the federal Double Jeopardy Clause. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s rejection of her habeas corpus petition.View "Volpe v. Trim" on Justia Law