The SCOTUS decision in Kansas v. Glover

Kansas v. Glover (2020) 140 S.Ct. 1183

The United States Supreme Court decided a case in which a driver had been stopped solely because the registered owner of the vehicle they drove had a revoked driver’s license. The Supreme Court held that the stop was lawful under the Fourth Amendment.

The underlying stipulated facts were that Deputy Mark Mehrer, employed by the Douglas County Kansas Sheriff’s Office, observed a pickup truck and ran its license plate number through the Kansas Department of Revenue’s file service. The Chevy truck came back registered to Charles Glover, Jr., and indicated that Glover’s driver’s license was revoked in the State of Kansas. Making the assumption that the driver of the truck was the registered owner, the deputy conducted a traffic stop. The sole basis for the stop was the revoked license status of the truck’s registered owner.

Glover was charged with driving as a habitual violator, and he filed a motion to suppress. The District Court granted the motion, but the Court of Appeal reversed. The Kansas Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal’s Decision and finally, the United States Supreme Court reversed again.

The U.S. Supreme Court found that the deputy’s inference that the driver of the truck was the registered owner was reasonable, rendering the stop lawful. The Opinion, written by Justice Thomas, states:

“The fact that the registered owner of a vehicle is not always the driver of the vehicle does not negate the reasonableness of Deputy Mehrer’s inference. Such is the case with all reasonable inferences. The reasonable suspicion inquiry “falls considerably short” of 51% accuracy, [Citation] for, as we have explained, “[t]o be reasonable is not to be perfect,” Heien v. North Carolina, 574 U.S. 54, 60, 135 S.Ct. 530, 190 L.Ed.2d 475 (2014).” Kansas v. Glover, 140 S.Ct. at 1188.

The Opinion also puts to rest the idea importuned by Glover and the dissent that an officer’s basis for a stop must be grounded in law enforcement training and experience. The Court held that reasonable suspicion may be based upon common sense knowledge that officers “have acquired in their everyday lives.” Kansas v. Glover, 140 S.Ct. at 1190. Also rejected was the argument that the deputy’s belief that the person driving was indeed the registered owner was in reliance on probabilities, rather than on particularized facts. The Court wrote:

“As an initial matter, we have previously stated that officers, like jurors, may rely on probabilities in the reasonable suspicion context. [Citation.] Moreover, as explained above, Deputy Mehrer did not rely exclusively on probabilities. He knew that the license plate was linked to a truck matching the observed vehicle and that the registered owner of the vehicle had a revoked license. Based on these minimal facts, he used common sense to form a reasonable suspicion that a specific individual was potentially engaged in specific criminal activity—driving with a revoked license … Accordingly, combining database information and commonsense judgments in this context is fully consonant with this Court’s Fourth Amendment precedents.” Kansas v. Glover, 140 S.Ct. at 1190.

And the Court found significant that prior to the stop, the deputy had no information pointing to innocence. The Court gave the example that had the deputy known the registered owner was in his mid-sixties, but observed that the driver was in her mid-twenties, that knowledge would have negated the reasonableness of the suspicion. But that was not the case. The Court held: “Here, Deputy Mehrer possessed no exculpatory information—let alone sufficient information to rebut the reasonable inference that Glover was driving his own truck—and thus the stop was justified.” Kansas v. Glover, 140 S.Ct. at 1191.

About the Author

Lara J. Gressley

Lara Gressley

Lara Gressley has been an attorney for over two decades. She focuses her practice on criminal defense, DUI defense, and writs and appeals in state and federal court, and has worked on cases before the United States Supreme Court. Lara also lectures lawyers across California on various criminal defense topics.

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