WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a warrantless traffic stop by a sheriff’s deputy in Kansas that was conducted based on information that the car owner’s license had been revoked.
Charles Glover Jr. claimed that the deputy did not have the required “reasonable suspicion” to pull him over, since he simply ran the truck’s license plate and did not actually know who was driving the vehicle before the detention was made.
In an 8-1 decision authored by Justice Clarence Thomas on Monday, the court held that police acted properly, FOX News reported.
“We hold that when the officer lacks information negating an inference that the owner is the driver of the vehicle, the stop is reasonable,” Thomas wrote, saying that Deputy Mark Mehrer reasonably inferred that Glover was the one driving the car.
The Kansas Supreme Court had ruled in Glover’s favor, claiming that the stop was based on “only a hunch” that the driver of the truck was the owner. Nevertheless, SCOTUS held that Mehrer’s belief was more reasonable than just a hunch, and a “commonsense inference.”
“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,” Thomas said.
Although Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not believe it was a “commonsense” assumption, they still agreed with the majority opinion that Mehrer had reasonable suspicion to make the stop.
The sole dissenting opinion came from Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She argued that Mehrer did not have enough to support his belief that Glover would have been driving without a valid license, FOX reported.
“With no basis in the record to presume that unlicensed drivers routinely continue driving, the majority endeavors to fill the gap with its own ‘common sense,” Sotomayor wrote. She also claimed that the majority improperly looked to the common sense of an average person instead of that of a reasonable officer, but the majority noted that her arguments – which were also made by Glover – were unconvincing.
With that analysis, Justice Sotomayor needs to go on a police ride-along. She might be surprised to learn that a “reasonable officer” would come to the same conclusion as Deputy Mehrer since many drivers continue to operate their vehicles on a revoked or suspended license.