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Reasonable Suspicion and Common Sense Prevail: Kansas v. Glover

Well, we may be sheltering in place trying to avoid COVID19, but the wheels of justice are still spinning.  The United States Supreme Court decided Kansas v. Glover on April 6, 2020, holding that a police officer does not violate the Fourth Amendment when initiating an investigative traffic stop for driving on a revoked license after running the vehicle’s license plate and learning the registered owner has a revoked driver’s license.  To make an investigative traffic stop, an officer must have reasonable suspicion that an individual is engaged in criminal activity.  Reasonable suspicion cannot be a hunch, but rather based on articulable facts.  Here, Kansas Deputy Mehrer observed an individual operating a Chevy truck.  Deputy Mehrer ran the plate and it revealed that Charles Glover, Jr. was the registered owner and that his license to drive was revoked.  Based on his common sense and experience, Deputy Mehrer assumed the registered owner of the truck was also the driver and he initiated a traffic stop to investigate the crime of driving with a revoked license.  The deputy did not try to identify the driver prior to making the stop.

The US Supreme Court reiterated its prior rulings that reasonable suspicion “depends on the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act.”  The Court emphasized that officers must be permitted to make “commonsense judgements and inferences about human behavior.”  First, the Court found that although the registered owner is not always the driver of the car, this fact does not negate the commonsense inference that Glover was likely the driver.  Next, the defense argued that because Glover’s license was revoked, it was unreasonable for the deputy to assume that he would be driving the car as that would be illegal.  Again, the Supreme Court explains that both commonsense and empirical evidence demonstrate that drivers often continue to drive while their license is suspended or revoked.  Therefore, Deputy Mehrer’s inference that Glover was the driver was also reasonable.

The US Supreme Court did emphasize the narrow scope of this holding in that reasonable suspicion is based on the totality of the circumstances, so additional facts might dispel reasonable suspicion.  For example, if the deputy had a view of the driver before pulling the truck over and saw that it was a female driver, then the inference that Charles Glover, Jr. was the driver because he is the registered owner is negated.  Deputy Mehrer possessed no exculpatory information in this case.  Thus, the combined database information and commonsense judgments of the deputy that the registered owner is the driver and therefore is engaged in criminal activity constituted reasonable suspicion for the traffic stop under the 4th Amendment.

 

What does this mean for you?  As always, continue to act reasonably and articulate the facts giving rise to your suspicion in your report to avoid having to testify to them in a suppression hearing.  Also, don’t disregard bad facts, and you should be fine.

 

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