The state attorney general’s office has issued an opinion affirming the right of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to search licensees’ property, including vehicles, and seize material considered relevant to the regulatory body’s investigations.
While the opinion, written by assistant deputy attorney general Tad Thomas outlined the broad discretion accorded the commission to conduct searches and seize property, it did draw the line at searches of living quarters on racetrack grounds without probable cause.
The opinion was requested by KHRC member Burr Travis, who contended “it is imperative that agents of the KHRC not only can search the vehicles of all licensees, barns, tack rooms, offices, or other locations, but they can also search and seize drugs, syringes, and diagnostic and therapeutic instruments without limitation which are relevant to a KHRC investigation.”
In its opinion, the attorney general’s office determined that:
--The KHRC may make a warrantless administrative search of any property within its jurisdiction, including the vehicles of its licensees, with the exception of living quarters or sleeping quarters.
--The KHRC may search for any item reasonably believed to constitute evidence of a violation of a KHRC regulation.
--The consent language in the KHRC License Application is a valid voluntary consent to warrantless administrative search and seizure, as long as it is interpreted not to include living quarters or dormitories.
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The legality of searches of vehicles at racetracks and other locations under jurisdiction of the KHRC was challenged by attorneys for Dr. Rod Stewart, who was suspended for four years for possession of three sealed vials of cobra venom, a substance used to kill pain. He was also suspended for one year for the possession of carbidopa and levodopa, both of which are used to treat Parkinson’s disease in humans. The substances were found during a June 22, 2007, search and seizure of items in a barn at the Keeneland training center occupied by trainer Patrick Biancone and of Stewart’s truck.
Stewart’s suspension for cobra venom possession has been upheld by a state court, which overturned the one-year suspension for possession of carbidopa and levodopa should be overturned because the commission failed to show whether the administration of the drugs “may endanger the health or welfare of the horse or endanger the safety of the rider.”