Kansas v. Glover: Investigatory stop of car owned by person with revoked license does not violate 4th Amendment, absent information the driver is not the owner
An officer who knows that a car’s registered owner has a revoked driver’s license can conduct an investigatory stop, absent other information that the driver is not the owner, the U.S. Supreme Court held April 6 in Kansas v. Glover.
During a routine patrol, a Kansas officer ran a license check on a pickup truck. The check indicated the truck was registered to a Charles Glover, who had a revoked driver’s license.
The officer then stopped the truck to investigate, and found the driver was, in fact, Glover.
Glover was ultimately charged with driving with a revoked license. He filed a motion to suppress all evidence seized during the stop, claiming the stop lacked reasonable suspicion.
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the motion to suppress should have been granted because the officer only had “a hunch” – not reasonable suspicion – that the driver was engaged in any criminal activity.
But the U.S. Supreme Court, in an 8-1 opinion, reversed.
The Fourth Amendment allows an investigative traffic stop when “factual and practical considerations of everyday life” and “common sense” give rise to reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, the Court said.
The officer’s knowledge that the registered owner of the vehicle had a revoked license “provided more than reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop,” the Court said.
“The fact that the registered owner of a vehicle is not always the driver does not negate the reasonableness,” the Court said. “It is reasonable to infer that an individual with a revoked license may continue driving.”
“We emphasize the narrow scope of our holding,” the Court cautioned. “Like all seizures, the officer’s actions must be justified at its inception.”
“The standard takes into account the totality of the circumstances – the whole picture,” the Court said. “As a result, the presence of additional facts might dispel reasonable suspicion.”
“For example, if an officer knows that the registered owner of the vehicle is in his mid-sixties but observes that the driver is in her mid-twenties, then the totality of the circumstances would not raise a suspicion that the particular individual being stopped is engaged in wrongdoing.”
Concurring opinion suggests other exceptions
Justice Kagan, joined by Justice Ginsburg, concurred. They suggested other circumstances that might dispel reasonable suspicion.
The fact that the owner’s license was revoked – as opposed to suspended – was a critical fact to them, since Kansas law generally revokes licenses only for serious, repeated driving violations. This makes it reasonable to infer that the driver may be flouting driving laws by driving while revoked, they said.
But if the owner’s license was only suspended, they would “find this a different case.” That’s because Kansas suspends licenses for many reasons that have nothing to do with driving, they said.
Kansas, for example, suspends licenses for failing to pay child support or court costs, they said. “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.”
They also said that “statistical evidence” – such as the “hit rate” (frequency) with which investigate stops actually discover unlicensed drivers behind the wheel — might be used to rebut an inference of criminal activity.
“Indeed, an officer may have his own hit rate, which if low enough could itself negate reasonable suspicion,” they said, citing an opinion by Justice Gorsuch when he was on the U.S. Court of Appeals. They said “defendants may question testifying officers about such information.”