Supreme Court Agrees to Decide Fourth Amendment Vehicle Registration Case

How often do you drive a vehicle not registered in your name? Every day? In Kansas v. Glover the Supreme Court will decide whether it is reasonable, under the Fourth Amendment, for an officer to suspect that the registered owner of a vehicle is the one driving it absent any information to the contrary.

Officer Mark Mehrer ran the license plate of a vehicle that was being driven lawfully. He discovered that the owner of the vehicle, Charles Glover, had a suspended license. He pulled the driver over and discovered he was in fact Charles Glover.

The Supreme Court has previously held that a police officer may pull over vehicles without a warrant when the officer has an “articulable and reasonable suspicion, based in fact, that the detained person is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a crime.” Glover claimed the officer violated his Fourth Amendment rights because the officer lacked reasonable suspicion of illegal activity to pull over the car.

The Kansas Supreme Court agreed stating, “Deputy Mehrer had some suspicion of a specific crime—driving while revoked. But Deputy Mehrer, who had not observed a traffic violation, needed reasonable suspicion Glover was driving, not just some suspicion.”

Kansas argued in favor of an “owner-is-the-driver presumption.” The Kansas Supreme Court rejected it because it is based on the “stacking” of “unstated assumptions”—that the registered owner is likely the primary driver of the vehicle and owners will “likely disregard the suspension or revocation order and continue to drive.” Assumption aren’t enough under the Fourth Amendment. “An assumption has no basis in proof or demonstration, so it is only an inarticulate hunch or an unparticularized suspicion.”

The Kansas Supreme Court also noted that the presumption rests in part on what the driver does not know—who is actually driving the car.  “And in evaluating whether the State has met its burden to prove the lawfulness of a search or seizure, courts cannot ‘draw inferences from the lack of evidence in the record’ because doing so may relieve the State of its burden and shift the burden to the defendant to establish why reasonable suspicion did not exist.”

This is the first Fourth Amendment case the Supreme Court has agreed to decide next term and the third (out of ten) case from Kansas.