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The U.S. Supreme Court Will Hear a Case That in Instrumental in Our Fourth Amendment Rights Staying Protected


The US Supreme Court will soon hear a case that could have drastic impacts on our Fourth Amendment rights when it comes to police being able to pull people over due to reasonable suspicion. Specifically, the Court will decide whether pulling someone over if a police officer runs a car’s plates and it shows that the owner of that car has a suspended or revoked driver’s license constitutes reasonable suspicion.

More than 11 million drivers have had a license suspended simply due to unpaid court debts. The state of Kansas’ argument that police officers should be allowed to pull people over if their car is registered to someone whose license has been suspended or revoked would therefore result in equating debt with crime, which is unconstitutional. In fact, in many states, a number of licenses have been suspended without having any connection to public safety whatsoever; for example, they are denied, suspended, or revoked simply due to not paying traffic tickets or defaulting on student loans. In fact, here in Florida, in some counties, tickets for minor pedestrian offenses- such as jaywalking – have resulted in thousands of people losing their driver’s licenses.

Assuming That The Driver Is The Owner Shifts Burden Of Proof

The case is especially problematic given that police officers would be pulling people over without knowing who is actually driving. As the Kansas Supreme Court noted in siding with the defendant, a number of families share the same car, therefore, police officers making assumptions about who is driving based on who is registered as owning the car would lead to innocent people being pulled over. When a police officer assumes that the driver is the owner, the state essentially no longer has to prove that the officer had “particular and individualized suspicion” that the owner was actually driving vehicle. This essentially relieves the state of its burden of proof, and shifts that burden to the driver.

Police Officers Would Be Pulling People Over Without Any Evidence Of A Crime

There is also another very important overarching issue here: An individual having a suspended license, while owning and registering a car, is not a crime. Neither is that vehicle being used, especially as if it is being driven by someone else.

Equating Owing the Government a Debt with Crime

Not to mention that license suspensions tend to more negatively affect poor communities and communities of color. As a result, if the Court takes the side of Kansas, thousands of people who pose no threat to public safety – whose only crime is owing the government money (or driving the car that belongs to someone who owes the government money), this is a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment, which ensures that Americans do not lose their right to privacy (and are subject to search and seizure) simply because they owe a debt (or are driving a car who belongs to someone who owes a debt).

The case will also look at the issue of automated license plate readers, which are becoming more and more popular, and which enable police officers to record the license plates of cars. Prevalent use of this  technology, if condoned by the Court, would arguably open Pandora’s box of revenue-driven policing practices, such as only flagging and pulling people over because they owe money to the government.

Contact Our Orlando Criminal Defense & Civil Rights Attorneys

If you or a loved one has been subject to an illegal search and seizure, contact our experienced Orlando criminal attorneys at the Baez Law Firm to find out how we can help ensure that your rights are protected.





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