High Court Upholds Police Right to Stop Vehicles Without Suspicion of Crime

April 6, 2020 by Dan McCue
A police car at a crime scene in downtown Minneapolis. (Dreamstime/TNS)

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a Kansas deputy sheriff did not violate a motorist’s constitutional rights when he pulled over a truck owned by a driver with a revoked license.

The case stems from events that occurred April 28, 2016. It was on that afternoon that Deputy Mark Mehrer, while on a routine patrol for the Douglas County Kansas Sheriff’s Office, ran the plates of a 1995 Chevrolet pickup truck.

At the time Mehrer ran the plates, there was no obvious indication that the driver was breaking the law. Nor did Mehrer observe any traffic infractions.

However, the license plate check revealed the license of the registered owner of the truck, Charles Glover, Jr., had been revoked. Based on this information, Mehrer initiated a traffic stop.

Glover was indeed behind the wheel and he was charged and later tried for driving with a revoked license.

But Glover maintained his arrest was unlawful because Mehrer simply inferred the owner of the truck was behind the wheel, that he had no way of knowing this was true, and therefore lacked the reasonable suspicion of a crime required to pull the truck over.

His lawyer then filed a motion to suppress all evidence seized during the stop. The trial court granted that motion, but it was later reversed by the state court of appeals.

The case then moved to the Kansas Supreme Court, which reversed the appeals court ruling, holding Deputy Mehrer did indeed violate Glover’s rights under the Fourth Amendment by stopping him without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

But a majority of justices on Monday, led by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, ruled the state Supreme Court got the decision wrong.

Specifically, it said in the absence of any information negating the deputy’s inference that the vehicle’s owner was driving the truck, the investigative traffic stop made after running a vehicle’s license plate was perfectly reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

Thomas was joined in the majority decision by Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

The justices sent the case back to the Kansas Supreme Court for furthering proceedings taking into account their opinion.

Justice Elena Kagan also filed a concurring opinion. which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined.

In that concurrence, they agreed that it is perfectly reasonable to assume the owner of a vehicle is the person driving it.

“Now, though, consider a wrinkle,” Kagan wrote. “Suppose you knew that the registered owner of the vehicle no longer had a valid driver’s license. That added fact raises a new question.

“What are the odds that someone who has lost his license would continue to drive? The answer is by no means obvious,” she continued. “You might think that a person told not to drive on pain of criminal penalty would obey the order—so that if his car was on the road, someone else (a family member, a friend) must be doing the driving. Or you might have the opposite intuition—that a person’s reasons for driving would overcome his worries about violating the law, no matter the possible punishment. But most likely (let’s be honest), you just wouldn’t know.

“Especially if you’ve not had your own license taken away, your everyday experience has given you little basis to assess the probabilities. Your common sense can therefore no longer guide you,” Kagan said.

Justice Sonya Sotomayor, the lone dissenter on the court, found the majority’s decision troubling.

“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,” she wrote.

“In an effort to uphold the conviction, the court destroys Fourth Amendment jurisprudence that requires individualized suspicion,” she concluded.

In The News

Health

Voting

Supreme Court

Affordable Care Act Survives Its Toughest Challenge Before the High Court
Supreme Court
Affordable Care Act Survives Its Toughest Challenge Before the High Court
June 17, 2021
by Dan McCue

The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a challenge to the Affordable Care Act, preserving insurance coverage for millions of Americans. By a 7-2 vote, the justices left the entire law intact and ruled that Texas and other Republican-led states (as well as two individual plaintiffs) have... Read More

Justices Defer Harvard Case on Race in College Admissions
Supreme Court
Justices Defer Harvard Case on Race in College Admissions

WASHINGTON (AP) — With abortion and guns already on the agenda, the conservative-dominated Supreme Court is considering adding a third blockbuster issue — whether to ban consideration of race in college admissions. The justices on Monday put off a decision about whether they will hear an... Read More

Justices Reject Johnson & Johnson Bid to Overturn $2B Talc Verdict
Supreme Court
Justices Reject Johnson & Johnson Bid to Overturn $2B Talc Verdict
June 10, 2021
by TWN Staff

The Supreme Court this week decided to leave in place a $2 billion verdict in favor of women who claim they developed ovarian cancer from using Johnson & Johnson talc products. As is their custom, the justices did not comment Tuesday on why they rejected Johnson & Johnson's... Read More

Supreme Court Limits Prosecutions for Unauthorized Computer Use
Supreme Court
Supreme Court Limits Prosecutions for Unauthorized Computer Use
June 7, 2021
by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. Supreme Court ruling Thursday makes it harder to impose liability on workers who use their employers’ computers for unauthorized purposes. The ruling restricts the Justice Department's authority to prosecute unauthorized computer use under the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. It also... Read More

Supreme Court Rejects Review of Male-only Military Draft
Supreme Court
Supreme Court Rejects Review of Male-only Military Draft

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday decided not to review a lawsuit asking whether it's sex discrimination for the government to require only men to register for the draft when they turn 18. The challenge, originally brought by a men's rights group, asserted that the... Read More

Gorsuch Holds 9th Circuit Went Too Far in Accepting Immigrant Testimony
Supreme Court
Gorsuch Holds 9th Circuit Went Too Far in Accepting Immigrant Testimony
June 1, 2021
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court tossed a pair of decisions from the 9th U.S. Circuit, holding the appellate court went too far in assuming that an immigrant's testimony was credible unless an immigrant judge said otherwise. Tuesday’s ruling involved a pair of... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top