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In the Driver’s Seat: Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Kansas v. Glover

Posted on: November 11th, 2019

By: Rachael Slimmon

On November 4, the United States Supreme Court held oral arguments in the case of Kansas v. Glover.  The Court examined whether a police officer may conduct a traffic stop solely because the vehicle’s registered owner has a suspended license.  The case started in 2016, when a Kansas police officer ran the license plate on Charles Glover’s truck.  Mr. Glover had a suspended license, so the officer pulled over the truck.  At trial, the parties stipulated that the officer assumed the owner was the driver, and the officer did not testify.

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution forbids “unreasonable searches and seizures.”  For traffic stops, longstanding precedent requires that police officers have “reasonable suspicion” of a crime before they can pull over a vehicle and conduct a traffic stop.

The Justices, particularly Justice Gorsuch, gave conflicting indications about their views during oral arguments.  Justice Gorsuch first appeared concerned that the officer did not testify about his training and experience.  Gorsuch indicated that this lack of officer testimony meant there were no facts behind the officer’s assumption that a vehicle owner is the vehicle driver, and no facts from which to draw reasonable suspicion.  Later, however, Justice Gorsuch opined that requiring an officer to testify and say “magic words” about his training and experience would be formalistic and unhelpful.  Many of the Justices also seemed to disagree whether it was common sense to assume that a vehicle’s owner is the driver, with Justice Breyer appearing most willing to accept that assumption.

Mr. Glover’s attorney proposed multiple options for officers to gain additional evidence before pulling a car over: visually checking to see if the driver is similar in age and gender to the vehicle owner, following the car to wait for another traffic violation, and using statistical studies.  Multiple Justices questioned the wisdom and practicality of these other measures.

If the Court finds the traffic stop unconstitutional, Kansas v. Glover could impose minor or significant changes to law enforcement practices.  Justice Alito summed up the main issue: “What you are proposing is either a trivial decision or a revolutionary decision. It’s a trivial decision if all who’s lacking here is a statement [of the officer’s training and experience] … It’s a revolutionary decision if in every case involving reasonable suspicion there has to be a statistical showing or an examination of all” the additional evidence that Mr. Glover’s attorney proposed.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Rachael Slimmon at [email protected].

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