U.S. Supreme Court to Review Whether an Officer Can Initiate a Traffic Stop Based Solely upon the Status of the Registered Owner

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Nick Apel

Nick is a 3L at the University of Kansas School of Law. Nick received his Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Kansas. Professionally, Nick is interested in patent law. In his free time, Nick enjoys spending time with family and friends. Nick is also a Kansas City Chiefs fan.

On November 4, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments to review the Kansas Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Kansas v. Glover. 1 In Kansas v. Glover, the Kansas Supreme Court held an enforcement officer lacks articulable and reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop when the evidence consists solely of an owner’s revoked licence. 2 The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to review this issue on April 1, 2019. 3 The Supreme Court will determine “whether, for purposes of an investigative stop under the Fourth Amendment, it is reasonable for an officer to suspect that the registered owner of a vehicle is the one driving the vehicle absent any information to the contrary.” 4

Originally, a Kansas district court granted Glover’s motion to suppress evidence of a traffic stop after Glover “argu[ed] the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to initiate the traffic stop.” 5 The district court relied on a short list of stipulated facts and personal experience in its ruling.6 These stipulations highlighted several facts. First, that the officer ran the truck’s license plate. Second, the officer found the truck’s registered owner had a revoked license. And finally, the officer initiated a traffic stop without observing any traffic violations or attempting to identify the driver. 7 The district court found it unreasonable to base the traffic stop solely on the assumption that the driver is the same person as the vehicle’s registered owner. 8 The district court judge explained that she owns three cars registered in her name, but that on any given day, other family members are driving at least two of those cars. 9 The Kansas Court of Appeals then reversed, holding an officer has reasonable suspicion under these facts when “the officer is unaware of any other evidence or circumstances from which an inference could be drawn that the registered owner is not the driver of the vehicle.” 10

The Kansas Supreme Court then reversed the Kansas Court of Appeals—finding the appellate decision erroneous for two reasons.11 First, assuming the driver is the same person as the owner “requires applying and stacking unstated assumptions that are unreasonable without further factual basis.” 12 Second, such an assumption is based on what the officer does not know and incorrectly shifts the burden to the defendant. 13 In conclusion, the Kansas Supreme Court recognized that while reasonable suspicion is a low bar, the State still carries the burden of proof—which requires something more than solely the officer’s assumption.14

The U.S. Supreme Court must determine whether to affirm the Kansas Supreme Court’s rationale. The petitioner alleges adopting the Kansas Supreme Court’s view will go against “12 other state supreme courts, 13 intermediate state appellate courts, and 4 federal circuit courts, including the Tenth Circuit.”15 The respondent, on the other hand, argues there is no conflict between the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision and other  precedent because each cited case contained some “additional evidence [to] shed light on the identity of the driver.” 16

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted certiorari to three separate cases involving the state of Kansas in 2019, which it will hear in October and November. KU Law Professor Stephen McAllister, U.S. Attorney for the District of Kansas, and special guests explored the constitutional issues raised in each of three cases at the Dole Institute of Politics. This panel included Sarah E. Harrington, counsel for the defense in Kansas v. Glover, and Toby Crouse, Kansas Solicitor General.

  1. 422 P.3d 64 (Kan. 2018).
  2. Id. at 66.
  3. Kansas v. Glover, SCOTUSblog, https://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/kansas-v-glover/ (last visited Oct. 20, 2019).
  4. Petition for Writ of Certiorari, Kansas v. Glover, 422 P.3d 64 (Kan. 2018) (No. 18-566).
  5. Glover, 422 P.3d at 66.
  6. Id. at 66–67.
  7. Id.
  8. Id. at 67.
  9. Id.
  10. Id.
  11. Id. at 68–69.
  12. Id. at 68.
  13. Id.
  14. Id. at 72.
  15. Petition for Writ of Certiorari, at 5.
  16. Brief in Opposition, Kansas v. Glover, 422 P.3d 64 (Kan. 2018) (No. 18-566).

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