Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

SCOTUS watch: Is a car stop legal even when the police officer doesn’t see a traffic infraction?

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court might decide that the answer is yes. The Supreme Court has granted cert in a case out of Kansas, in which a police officer ran the license plate of a passing car (for reasons unexplained in the Kansas decision given that there was no traffic infraction) and saw that the registered owner had a suspended driver’s license. Based only on that – and with no information about whether the owner was actually driving – the police pulled over the car. Mr. Glover, who was the owner and did not have a valid driver’s license, was charged with “driving as a habitual violator.”

The Kansas Supreme Court held that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to pull over the car and suppressed the evidence (which in this case, seems to only be the fact that Mr. Glover was, indeed, driving). That sounds right! But Kansas sought review and the Supreme Court granted cert, to answer the question of whether police can pull over a car if they know the owner of the car has no legal license, based only on a presumption that the owner is driving. Apparently, Justice Gorsch has already endorsed the State’s view, holding in a 10th Circuit case that a “not found” report from a state insurance database was enough to stop a car.

With license plate readers all over New York City, and seemingly easy access by police to car owner reports, it isn’t hard to imagine that a rule like Kansas proposes could result in many more “legal” car stops, even when the police haven’t so much as seen a broken tail light.

Stay tuned: The case is scheduled for argument Nov. 4, 2019.

Posted by
Categories: Uncategorized
Comments are closed.