(STL.News) – The U.S. Supreme Court today held that a officer acted reasonably in making a Douglas County traffic stop, reversing the Kansas Supreme Court, Attorney General Derek Schmidt said.
The high court ruled 8-1 that a sheriff’s deputy making an investigative traffic stop after running a vehicle’s license plate and learning that the registered owner’s driver’s license had been revoked was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The Kansas Supreme Court had unanimously held the stop violated the Fourth Amendment.
“The inference that the driver of a car is its registered owner does not require any specialized training; rather, it is a reasonable inference made by ordinary people on a daily basis,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority.
Schmidt said today’s decision further clarifies the scope of the Fourth Amendment for law enforcement officers in Kansas and around the country.
“Today’s ruling makes clear that the Fourth Amendment does not require the patrol officers who keep our streets and highways safe to suspend their common sense when they put on their uniforms,” Schmidt said. “As this deputy knew, and as the U.S. Supreme Court today confirmed, it is common sense to suspect the registered owner of a car is the person driving it, and that is sufficient to make a traffic stop to determine whether that reasonable suspicion is in fact correct.”
While on routine patrol, the deputy involved in this case ran a registration check on a pickup truck with a Kansas license plate. The Kansas Department of Revenue’s electronic database indicated the truck was registered to an individual whose driver’s license had been revoked. Without observing any other traffic infractions or identifying the driver, the deputy pulled over the vehicle, discovered the owner was in fact the driver, and cited the defendant as a habitual violator for driving while his license was revoked.
The U.S. Supreme Court noted that today’s ruling is narrow and that any traffic stop in this situation must quickly end if the officer’s reasonable suspicion about who is driving the vehicle is not confirmed. The case now returns to the Kansas Supreme Court, which will determine whether additional proceedings are necessary.
Today’s decision was the last of three the attorney general’s office successfully argued at the U.S. Supreme Court during a four-week period last fall. The other two cases were Kansas v. Ramiro Garcia, an identity theft case arising from Johnson County, and James Kraig Kahler v. Kansas, a death penalty case arising from Osage County. The U.S. Supreme Court has now ruled in favor of the attorney general’s position in each of the three cases.