Supreme Court Update: Kansas v. Glover (April 6, 2020 decision)
LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER LEGAL ADVICE AND TRAINING
Andrew Tallmer, Esq.
On April 6, 2020, the United States Supreme Court decided Kansas v. Glover. At issue in the case was the legality of a traffic stop where the driver was suspected of driving while his license was revoked. The decision is favorable to law enforcement.
Charles Glover, Jr., was charged with driving as a habitual violator after a traffic stop revealed that Glover was operating the vehicle while his license was revoked. Glover attempted to suppress all evidence seized during the stop. Glover claimed that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop the pickup truck.
Deputy Mehrer was on routine patrol when he observed a 1995 Chevrolet 1500 pickup truck with Kansas plate 295ATJ.3. Deputy Mehrer ran the plate. The truck was registered to a 1995 Chevrolet 1500 pickup truck owned by Glover. The record check revealed that Mr. Glover’s license was revoked. Deputy Mehrer assumed the registered owner of the truck was also the operator, Charles Glover Jr. Prior to the stop, Mehrer did not observe any traffic infractions, and he did not attempt to identify the driver of the truck. Based solely on the information that the registered owner of the truck was revoked, Deputy Mehrer initiated a traffic stop.7. The driver of the truck was identified as defendant Glover. The Kanas trial court denied Glover’s motion to suppress. The Kansas Supreme Court reversed that judgement. That court decided that Mehrer’s stop of the truck was based upon a mere hunch of criminal activity, rather than on the required reasonable suspicion. The case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
Did Deputy Mehrer have reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot so as to justify the stop of Glover’s vehicle for driving with a revoked license? plate and learning that the registered owner has a revoked driver’s license.
In reversing the Kansas Supreme Court, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Deputy Mehrer did have reasonable suspicion to stop Glover. The Court ruled that where an officer lacks information negating an inference that the owner is the driver of the vehicle, the stop is reasonable.
Before turning to a more detailed discussion of the Glover case, I thought it would be helpful to review a few rules concerning the legality of traffic stops.
First, you do not need reasonable suspicion to run a plate. That is because the Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches, but the government only “searches” when the suspect has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the information gathered by the police. There is no privacy interest in the letters and numbers revealed on the tag. There is ample case law to support this rule, including State v. Chambers, N.C. Court of Appeals, April 6, 2010 (unpublished opinion). Officers should note that the defendant in the Glover case did not challenge Mehrer’s right to run the tag, whether or not he had reasonable suspicion at that point.
Secondly, LEO’s must have reasonable suspicion to stop a person or a vehicle (there are some situations where no suspicion is needed, such as checkpoints). Reasonable suspicion exists where the LEO has a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity. See Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968); State v. Battle, 109 N.C. App. 367 (1993). Reasonable suspicion is a lower standard than probable cause: “Although a mere ‘hunch’ does not create reasonable suspicion, the level of suspicion the standard requires is considerably less than proof of wrongdoing by a preponderance of the evidence, and obviously less than is necessary for probable cause.” Navarette v. California, 572 U.S. 393 (2014). Reasonable suspicion to make a stop of a person or of a vehicle requires objective (that is, more than a gut feeling) fact which would lead a reasonable LEO to believe that criminal activity may be afoot. The standard considers the factual and practical considerations of everyday life. This low level of proof means that LEO’s do not have to rule out the possibility that the conduct observed may ultimately prove innocent. Thus, in Glover, if it turned out that Glover was not driving the car but at the time of the stop the LEO had reasonable suspicion that Glover was the operator, the stop would be lawful.
Thirdly, Glover confirms that the LEO does not have to be certain that defendant was driving to make the stop lawful. Officers can make the common-sense inference that the owner of the car may be the driver. Remember that reasonable suspicion requires only “maybe”, not “probably” (probable cause is the standard required to make an arrest, or to obtain an arrest or search warrant). It is reasonable for LEO’s to infer that an owner may continue to drive even after his or her license has been suspended or revoked. That States have recognized this by making it offense to drive post-revocation. The Glover decision notes studies from the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration establishing that that 75 percent of drivers continue to drive post suspension or revocation. See, T. Neuman et al., National Coop. Hwy. Research Program Report 500: A Guide for Addressing Collisions Involving Unlicensed Drivers and Drivers with Suspended or Revoked Licenses, p. III–1 (2003).
Fourth, your right to make to make the inference that the driver has a revoked license does not require specific law enforcement training in the area of driving while license suspended or revoked. The common-sense determination allows you to bring life experience into making the reasonable suspicion determination. That experience may include, but is not limited to, law enforcement training.
Glover is consistent with the leading North Carolina case relevant to the inference that the driver may be the one whose license is revoked. See State v. Hess, 185 N.C. App. 530 (2007). There, the Court ruled that “when a police officer becomes aware that a vehicle being operated is registered to an owner with a suspended or revoked driver’s license, and there is no evidence appearing to the officer that the owner is not the individual driving the automobile, reasonable suspicion exists to warrant an investigatory stop. In other words, you may stop the car unless you have an indication that the driver is not the individual whose license is suspended or revoked. Absent facts to the contrary, the Glover decision allows you to infer that the owner is the driver.
Lastly, I’d like to address a question which has often arisen in PLI and other courses: what if you stop the car and it turns out that the driver is not the owner whose license has been suspended or revoked? Note that long as you reasonably believed that the owner was driving, the stop was lawful. Once you determine that the owner is not driving, must you let the driver leave the scene? In Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609 (2015), the Supreme Court ruled that LEO’s may not unreasonably prolong traffic stops in order to investigate possible criminal conduct. Rodriguez was stopped for a traffic infraction. The LEO gave defendant the ticket and then the LEO asked Rodriguez for permission to search the car. After Rodriguez refused the LEO called for backup. That happened a few minutes later. The first LEO then walked the canine around Rodriguez’s car and the canine alerted to the presence of methamphetamine. The Supreme Court suppressed the narcotics, ruling that the stop was unreadably extended post-issuance of the ticket. The court noted that officers may not deliberately or unreasonably delay the issuance of the citation for a drug dog to arrive at the scene, even if the delay is brief.
But what is the interplay between Rodriguez and North Carolina General Statute 20-29? The law reads:
“Any person operating or in charge of a motor vehicle, when requested by an officer in uniform, … who shall refuse, on demand of such officer or such other person, to produce his license and exhibit same to such officer or such other person for the purpose of examination, or who shall refuse to surrender his license on demand of the Division, or fail to produce same when requested by a court of this State, shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.”
So, getting back to the question, you have made the stop based upon reasonable suspicion that the revoked or suspended owner is the driver. You then learn that the driver is not the owner. May you nevertheless request the motorist’s license to run the usual checks? I would advise officers to comply with Rodriquez by letting the motorist go immediately. That is because federal law trumps (so to speak) state law, so Rodriguez “wins” over 20-29.
I hope this helps. Please stay safe during this exceedingly difficult time.
If you have any questions, I may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also let me know if after the current emergency you would like to schedule any courses.