In the case of Kansas v. Charles Glover, the State of Kansas is asking the United States Supreme Court to overturn a decision of the Kansas Supreme Court, finding that the police officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop a motor where the police had information that the registered owner did not have a valid license. The State is arguing that the police are allowed to infer without further information that the registered owner is driving the vehicle, allowing for a lawful traffic stop. In Massachusetts, under the case of Commonwealth v. Daramo, 762 N.E. 2d 815 (Mass. 2002), the police are allowed to infer that the registered owner is driving the vehicle. In light of the Glover decision, Massachusetts criminal lawyers should attempt to have the Court readdress this issue as being inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment and Article 14 of the Massachusetts Constitution.
This inference that the registered owner is the driver is inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment and requirements of reasonable suspicion as the Kansas Supreme Court correctly found. In requesting the United State Supreme Court to hear the case, the State of Kansas argued that the rule in a majority of jurisdictions is to allow an officer to infer that the registered owner is driving the vehicle. You can read the filing of the Glover case on the Scotus Blog. The State’s petition for certiorari is pending before the United States Supreme Court.
Reasoning of the Kansas Supreme Court in Glover:
The Kansas Supreme Court stated the following in finding that the motion judge should have allowed the motion to suppress:
First, that to allow officers to stop a vehicle whenever the registered owner lacked a valid license required stacking unstated assumptions. The Court found that it required the assumption that the registered owner was likely the primary driver and also likely to ignore the order not to drive as a result of the license suspension. The Court found that this inference allows the State to relive itself of the burden to show reasonable suspicion and shifts the burden to the defendant to show an absence of reasonable suspicion.
In support of the State’s request for certiorari, the State of Kansas argued that the rule of the Kansas Supreme Court is inconsistent with other courts that permit a stop based on the fact that the registered owner has a suspended license as long as the officer does not have information that the owner is not driving. The State argues that it is common sense and reasonable for the officer to suspect that the registered owner is the driver. The State argues that reasonable suspicion does not require solid proof and that while it is possible for someone else to be driving, it is still reasonable for an officer to suspect that the registered owner is driving.
While the decision of the Kansas Supreme Court is the minority view, it is consistent with the Fourth Amendment. When an officer pulls a driver over passed on the unregistration or unlicense status of the owner, the police officer is acting on a hunch or suspicion that is not supported by any facts but assumptions that the owner is driving and would ignore the order not to drive. At minimum, police officers should have to make some effort to verify that the registered owner is the driver before assuming the fact in order to protect an individuals right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment.
This issue of the police assuming the register owner is the driver comes up in many types of criminal cases, such as OUI cases, drug or gun arrests. If you have this issue in your State, you should attempt to preserve the issue under the Fourth Amendment and your State Constitution as the United States Supreme Court could decide with the defendant in this case. You can read the Glover case on the Justia website.