Kansas v. Glover: U.S. Supreme Court Decides Kansas Case About Traffic Stops

Kansas v. Glover, 140 S.Ct. 1183 (2020).

Issue:  When an officer learns the registered owner of a vehicle has a revoked driver’s license and initiates a traffic stop, is the inference that the registered owner is also the driver sufficient to give the officer a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, as required by the Fourth Amendment?

Answer:  Yes, when the officer does not possess any information negating that inference.

Facts:  Deputy Sheriff Mehrer observed a pickup truck and, though Mehrer did not observe the vehicle commit any traffic infractions, he ran the license plate number.  He learned that the registered owner, Charles Glover, Jr., had a revoked driver’s license.  Based solely on this information, Mehrer initiated a traffic stop.  The driver of the truck was indeed Glover.  Mehrer arrested Glover for driving as a habitual violator, in violation of Kan. Stat. Ann. § 8–285(a)(3).

Discussion:  With seven other justices joining, Justice Thomas emphasized that police officers, when making a stop, are entitled to rely on “commonsense inferences and judgment about human behavior.” Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 119 (2000).  Based on the facts available to Mahrer at the time of the stop, common sense allowed him to reasonably conclude that the registered owner was also the driver, and thus violating the law.  The majority emphasized that the fact that Glover had his licensed revoked did not negate the inference that he was the driver.  It cited studies suggesting that many drivers with revoked licenses continued to drive and as Kansas statutes that suggest Kansas typically only revokes a driver’s license when a person has been particularly lawless with vehicles. The majority’s suggestion is that these people are already likely to violate vehicular laws and therefore the inference the officer made is supported.

The majority and the dissent disagree primarily in two areas. The dissent suggested that settled Supreme Court precedent requires police officers solely use common sense derived from “experiences in law enforcement,” as opposed to general common sense.  The majority rejected this.  Additionally, the dissent argued the majority’s rule would eliminate the need to base reasonable suspicion on specific and articulable facts particularized to the individual defendant.  The majority, in response, stressed that police officers are permitted to rely on probability in the reasonable suspicion context.  Mahrer did not solely rely on probability, as he “knew that the license plate was linked to a truck matching the observed vehicle and that the registered owner of the vehicle had a revoked license.”

Key Authorities

Kan. Stat. Ann. § 8-285(a)(3).

Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 119 (2000).

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