US Supreme Court rules in favor of State that a police officer can pull over a vehicle when a running of the plate indicates that the registered owner’s license is revoked

In the groundbreaking case of Kansas v. Glover, 589 U.S. _______ (2020), published on April 6, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that when a vehicle license plate is run and the results indicate that the license of the registered owner is revoked, that gives the police reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle and does not violate the 4th Amendment’s Constitutional Protection against illegal search and seizure.

This case arose from a motor vehicle stop in the State of Kansas. The facts were as follows:

On April 16, 2016, Deputy Mehrer of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department was on routine patrol when he observed a vehicle driven by Charles Glover Jr. Deputy Mehrer ran the vehicle’s plate, and the information returned indicated that the indicated that vehicle was owned by Mr. Glover, and that Mr. Glover’s Kansas driver’s license was revoked. Deputy Mehrer did not observe any traffic infractions, and based solely on the information that the license of the registered owner of the truck was revoked, Deputy Mehrer initiated a traffic stop. Subsequent to the stop, Deputy Mehrer determined that the driver was in fact Charles Glover Jr.

The procedural history of the case was as follows:

Glover filed a motion to suppress all evidence seized during the stop, claiming that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to believe that he was the operator of the vehicle. The Kansas District Court granted Glover’s motion to suppress. The Kansas Court of Appeals reversed, holding that “it was reasonable for Mehrer to infer that the driver was the owner of the vehicle” because “there were specific and articulable facts from which the officer’s common-sense inference gave rise to a reasonable suspicion.” 54 Kan. App. 2d 377, 385, 400 P. 3d 182, 188 (2017). The Kansas Supreme Court reversed the Kansas Appellate Court, holding that Deputy Mehrer did not have reasonable suspicion because his inference that Glover was behind the wheel did not rise the level of reasonable suspicion that Glover was engaging in criminal activity. 308 Kan. 590, 591, 422 P. 3d 64, 66 (2018). In 2019, the US Supreme Court granted the state of Kansas’ petition for a writ of certiorari to review the case on Federal Constitutional grounds.

The decision of the US Supreme Court, and it’s rational, are as follows:

In reversing the Kansas Supreme Court, the US Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment permits an officer to initiate a brief investigative traffic stop when he has reasonable suspicion of a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the person is engaged in criminal activity.  The court explained that the standard for reasonable suspicion is considerably less than proof of wrongdoing by a preponderance of the evidence, and much less than is necessary for probable cause, which is required to make an arrest. Because reasonable suspicion is a less demanding standard, it can be established with information that is different in quantity or content than that required to establish probable cause, and depends on the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men act. This requires that police officer be allowed to make commonsense judgments and inferences about human behavior.

With this standard of review, the US Supreme Court concluded that the facts known to Deputy Mehrer at the time of the stop gave rise to reasonable suspicion. This is because before initiating the stop, Deputy Mehrer knew that the registered owner of the truck had a revoked license.  Based on that fact, Deputy Mehrer drew the commonsense inference that Glover was likely the driver of the vehicle, which provided more than reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop. Moreover, the mere fact that the registered owner of a vehicle is not always the driver of the vehicle does not negate the reasonableness of Deputy Mehrer’s inference.

If you or someone you know has been charged with operating while your driving privileges are suspended or revoked under NY VTL § 511, give us a call right now. We answer our phones around the clock 24 / 7. Talking to people about their legal problems and needs is something we do every day, and we’d love to answer any questions that you may have!