Supreme Court seems prepared to rule for police in traffic-stop case
The Supreme Court on Monday seemed prepared to say it was reasonable for police to pull over a vehicle registered to someone with a suspended driver’s license even if officers don’t know for sure who is driving.
The court heard a case from Kansas that could have a big impact on when police may stop a motorist who has not otherwise broken the law, sorting through phrases such as “common sense” (18 mentions), “reasonable suspicion” (44 mentions) and “assume” and “assumption” (25 mentions).
Kansas Solicitor General Toby Crouse said it was “common sense” for sheriff’s deputy Mark Mehrer to stop a truck owned by Charles Glover after a routine license plate check showed Glover had a suspended license.
“It would have been poor police work for Deputy Mehrer not to initiate the stop in this case and investigate further to confirm or dispel his suspicion,” Crouse said.
Justice Department lawyer Michael R. Huston agreed. “The purpose of reasonable suspicion is simply to conduct further investigation,” Huston told the court.
But what if a law-abiding citizen was simply borrowing the truck? “There’s literally nothing she could do to avoid being seized,” said lawyer Sarah E. Harrington, representing Glover.
As it turns out, Glover was driving near Lawrence, Kan., in 2016, and Mehrer charged him with habitual driving with a suspended license (and then let him drive away). The Kansas Supreme Court, however, said the officer had not done enough to justify the stop.
All that is needed for a traffic stop, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, is reasonable suspicion that the law is being broken, which can be a low hurdle. But the Kansas Supreme Court said that Mehrer didn’t even have that: He had only an “assumption” that the driver behind the wheel must be Glover.
“The problem is not that the state necessarily needs significantly more evidence; it needs some more evidence,” the state court ruled...
OK, I run the license plate and it comes back with an expired registration, do I have find additional reasonable suspicion to initiate a stop? Or if I see one brake light out, do I have to wait for the next one to burn out before I pull the vehicle over? Or, if the vehicle and driver match the suspect in an armed robbery that just occurred three blocks away, is this not incumbent upon me, as a police officer, to detain the driver for further investigation?
...Some justices, particularly Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, seemed to agree with their Kansas counterparts about the Constitution’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.Well I'm not surprised the Democratic judges question simple law enforcement actions. But again, Justice Sotomayor, why should you second guess the cop on the street with years of experience? Someone who knows the area, the usual suspects, and how they operate. If, in this example, the driver was not the operator with a suspended licence, he has been delayed for a few minutes. I've pulled over countless vehicles for a warrant on the license plate, the suspect is "John Smith, B/M, DOB 4/4/87," and the driver is actually "Juan Valdez, H/M, DOB 2/7/92." OK Justice Sotomayor, if I stop the vehicle and Mr Valdez is the driver, I, as part of my duties, must check him for wants and warrants. Can be very important, see how Timothy McVeigh was caught after the Oklahoma City bombing. If I find out he's wanted, I book him, would you throw out the arrest because I didn't have enough "reasonable suspicion" to stop?
Why should the court second-guess the trial judge, who said that in his experience, many people lawfully drive vehicles not registered to them, Sotomayor asked.
Kagan hypothesized about a municipality that required motorists to carry their licenses with them at all times, but a survey showed only 50 percent of teenagers did so. “So now it’s like common sense that if you see a teenager, she won’t be carrying her driver’s license with her,” Kagan said. “Does that give the police officer the ability to stop every teenager that he sees?”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wondered whether it might be more likely that the person behind the wheel was not the registered owner with the suspended license.
Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said he was troubled that Mehrer did not testify, so there was no questioning about whether his experience or training caused him to “assume” the driver was Glover.
“There are no facts in the record at all, zero,” Gorsuch said. On the other hand, if all an officer had to do was say some “magic words” about his experience or training, “what are we fighting about here?” he asked...
Hopefully SCOTUS does the right thing. I would hate to see another action to bling cops in doing their duties.