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U.S. Supreme Court Rules That Officer Can Pull You Over Simply for Vehicle Ownership Being Associated with Suspended or Revoked Driver’s License Under Some Circumstances

In April, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a very important Fourth Amendment search and seizure case, finding that police officers may stop a vehicle simply because the vehicle is registered to someone whose driver’s license is suspended or revoked, thereby relying on the assumption that the owner is the individual driving the car and without any other violations being present. In doing so, the Court reversed the state supreme court’s ruling, which found in favor of the defendant in concluding that the officer involved made two unreasonable assumptions in pulling the driver over: One, that the vehicle’s registered owner was the individual driving the car at that time, and two, that people whose driver’s licenses are suspended or revoked will simply disregard the fact that they have a suspended or the driver’s license and continue to drive anyway.

Majority Opinion: Officer Made Common Sense Inference Based On Specific Circumstances

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion, finding that the officer’s assumption was supported by “common sense” and was an “entirely reasonable inference.” However, Thomas also qualified the opinion, pointing out that circumstances would be different if, for example, the officer knows that the car is registered to someone in their 60s while the individual driving the car is in their 20s (in other words, In that case, the stop would not necessarily have been legal).

Concurrence: Decision Is Limited To Particular Circumstances Of Kansas

Justices Elena Keegan and Ruth Bader Ginsberg provided a concurring opinion, pointing out that the overall case decision really is limited to the state of Kansas because the state is unusual in that it only suspends and revokes driver’s licenses if the driver has shown a complete disregard for the law, i.e. that they have affirmatively broken the law. In other states this would not necessarily apply because driver’s licenses are suspended for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with breaking laws, such as failing to pay child support. The Justices also provided a number of examples of information available to police officers that would make these types of traffic stops improper and illegal.

Dissent: Reasonable Suspicion Can Now Be Based On Demographics & Burden Of Proof Shifted

Justice Sotomayor dissented, arguing that the majority effectively opened the door for reasonable suspicion to be found by officers based on nothing more than a demographic profile and shifted the burden of proof from the officer involved in the traffic stop to the defendant.

What Is  Perhaps Most Important: How Will This Affect Search & Seizure?

There is no question that the U.S. Supreme Court defines criminal defendants’ rights in the course of arrests, search and seizures, the right to counsel, investigations, Miranda rights, what constitutes cruel and usual punishment, etc. How the police interact with us every day and conduct these searches, seizures and arrests is largely based on how they interpret these decisions and what they take away from them. This is very important, as this defines our rights because most of us will not end up in front of the US Supreme Court determining whether an officer acted within the confines of the law.

What is concerning about the police associated reports for this case is a lack of understanding that the decision was a qualified one based on the specific circumstances involved. What appears to be the take-away is that police officers rightfully rely on their common sense when making reasonable suspicion determinations and can do so based on the assumption that the registered owner of the vehicle was also the driver without any other observable violation present.

If You Are Facing Civil Rights/Criminal Concerns In Florida, Contact Our Attorneys

There is no question that the outcome of this case will have significant repercussions for everyone when it comes to being pulled over for traffic stops now that some police officers may believe that they can base them entirely off of demographic profiles of vehicle owners. If you have been the subject of an illegal search and seizure and arrested/charged, contact The Baez Law Firm today to find out how our Orlando criminal lawyers can ensure that your rights are protected.







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