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April 6, 2020

SCOTUS upholds, by vote of 8-1, traffic stop after run of vehicle plate shows revoked driver's license

The Supreme Court this morning handed down its opinion in Kansas v. Glover, No. 16-556 (S. Ct. Apr. 6, 2020) (available here). Justice Thomas delivered the opinion of the Court, which start this way:

This case presents the question whether a police officer violates the Fourth Amendment by initiating an investigative traffic stop after running a vehicle’s license plate and learning that the registered owner has a revoked driver’s license.  We hold that when the officer lacks information negating an inference that the owner is the driver of the vehicle, the stop is reasonable.

The short majority opinion is sure at the end to reiterate that "the ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness;" the Court makes sure to "emphasize the narrow scope of our holding" by stressing "the presence of additional facts might dispel reasonable suspicion." Ergo, keep litigating.

A five-page concurrence authored by Justice Kagan and joined by Justice Ginsburg makes an interest collateral consequences point. Here is an excerpt (with cites removed):

I would find this a different case if Kansas had barred Glover from driving on a ground that provided no similar evidence of his penchant for ignoring driving laws.  Consider, for example, if Kansas had suspended rather than revoked Glover’s license.  Along with many other States, Kansas suspends licenses for matters having nothing to do with road safety, such as failing to pay parking tickets, court fees, or child support.  Indeed, several studies have found that most license suspensions do not relate to driving at all; what they most relate to is being poor. So the good reason the Court gives for thinking that someone with a revoked license will keep driving — that he has a history of disregarding driving rules — would no longer apply.

A lengthy concurrence authored by Justice Sotomayor gets started and ends this way:

In upholding routine stops of vehicles whose owners have revoked licenses, the Court ignores key foundations of our reasonable-suspicion jurisprudence and impermissibly and unnecessarily reduces the State’s burden of proof. I therefore dissent....

Vehicle stops “interfere with freedom of movement, are inconvenient, and consume time.” Prouse, 440 U. S., at 657.  Worse still, they “may create substantial anxiety” through an “unsettling show of authority.” Ibid.  Before subjecting motorists to this type of investigation, the State must possess articulable facts and officer inferences to form suspicion. The State below left unexplained key components of the reasonable-suspicion inquiry.  In an effort to uphold the conviction, the Court destroys Fourth Amendment jurisprudence that requires individualized suspicion.  I respectfully dissent.

April 6, 2020 at 10:23 AM | Permalink

Comments

This case shows what happens when both sides think that they have the law on their side and stipulate to a simple set of facts. The State lost the opportunity to put on evidence about the officer's training and experience that would have bolstered his conclusion that the owner of the vehicle might be the driver. The defense lost the opportunity to bring up facts that might have undermined that conclusion.

Instead, we have a case with a 6-2-1 split about when an inference is reasonable and when suspicion is sufficiently particularized. I expect we will see Glover cited a lot in briefs on appeal for the next several years.

Posted by: tmm | Apr 6, 2020 12:10:22 PM

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