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U.S. Supreme Court: Police Motor Vehicle Stops Using License Plate Look Up Are Reasonable – DeMichele & DeMichele, P.C.

By Richard A. DeMichele Jr.
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In a Justice Thomas written decision, the US Supreme Court handed down its decision in Kansas vs. Glover. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, Alito, Kagen, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh joined the decision with Justice Kagen filed a concurring opinion which Justice Ginsberg joined. Justice Sotomayor was the lone dissenter and filed a dissenting opinion.

This case involved an office stopping a motorist solely because a license plate lookup indicated the owner of the pick-up truck had a suspended license. It is important to note that the officer “did not observe any traffic infractions, and did not attempt to identify the driver [of] the truck. The office presumed that the owner of the vehicle was the driver of the vehicle. In this case the owner of the pick-up truck, Charles Glover Jr., was the operator of the truck.

The defendant filed a suppression motion base3d upon his 4th Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. At the trial court level, the motion to suppress was granted. The Kansas appellate court reversed, holding that “it was reasonable for [the officer] to infer that the driver was the owner of the vehicle” because “there were specific and articulable facts from which the officer's common-sense inference gave rise to a reasonable suspicion.”

The Kansas Supreme Court reversed citing the officer did not have reasonable suspicion because his inference that the owner was behind the wheel amounted to “only a hunch” that defendant was engaging in criminal activity. The court went on to say that the officers “hunch” involved “applying and stacking unstated assumptions that are unreasonable without further factual basis,” namely, that “the registered owner was likely the driver of the vehicle” and that “the owner will likely disregard the suspension or revocation order and continue to drive.” Based in part on the above the Kansas Supreme Court reversed the state appellate court and upheld the defendant's motion to suppress.

The United States Supreme Court accepted the case for review and was faced with deciding 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. This question is answered by understanding what is reasonable suspicion under the law. In this case the officer observed:

1. An unidentified individual operating a pickup truck.

2. The registered owner of the truck had a revoked license.

3. That the model of the truck matched the observed vehicle.

The court found that the officer drew the commonsense inference that the defendant was likely the driver of the vehicle, which provided more than reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop. The fact that the registered owner of a vehicle is not always the driver of the vehicle does not negate the reasonableness of officer's inference.

The important take away is that if a New Jersey driver has a suspended driver's license everyone who drives their car is at risk for a motor vehicle stop. If you or someone you know needs help with a the restoration a new Jersey drivers license, a motor vehicle ticket or any other criminal matter in New Jersey, contact the criminal defense lawyers at DeMichele & DeMichele today. We are here to defend the charges against you. Contact us now for your confidential and free initial consultation. You can also reach us by telephone (856) 546-1350.

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