Kansas v. Charles Glover, Jr. (U.S. Supreme Court, April 6, 2020)

Fourth Amendment – In determining whether an officer has reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop, an officer may infer that the driver of a vehicle is the vehicle’s owner.

Charles Glover was arrested for driving with a revoked license after a traffic stop. The officer who initiated the stop had run the plate of the truck and learned that 1) the vehicle belonged to Glover and 2) Glover’s license was suspended. There was no other basis for the officer’s decision to initiate the traffic stop besides the officer’s assumption that the driver of the truck was Glover himself.

The district court granted Glover’s motion to suppress based on the officer’s lack of reasonable suspicion, the Court of Appeals reversed, and the parties took it to the Supreme Court. In an 8-1 decision, a majority of the Court held that, when an officer learns that the registered owner of a vehicle has a suspended or revoked license, it is reasonable for the officer to assume that a vehicle is being driven by a registered owner of the vehicle and initiate a traffic stop. The Court explained that the fact that an owner’s license is suspended does not make it unreasonable to assume the vehicle’s driver is not the owner, citing “empirical studies” demonstrating that drivers with suspended or revoked licenses “frequently continue to drive.”

The lone dissent came from Justice Sotomayor, criticizing the majority decision for undermining the standard for “individualized” suspicion that a driver of a vehicle is engaged in wrongdoing. Reasonable suspicion cannot be based on mere likelihood, Justice Sotomayor wrote, and any “common sense” inferences must be based on a law enforcement officer’s reasonable training and experience and “does not accomodate the average person’s intuition.”

On certiorari from the Supreme Court of Kansas

Opinion by Thomas, joined by Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh

Dissent by Sotomayor

Click here to read the opinion.

 

 


Tom Church

Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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