Supreme Court Hears Case About Kansas Man Pulled Over on “Common Sense” Suspicion

Published by Matt Fishman on

A case argued before the Supreme Court today discussed if “reasonable suspicion… based on common sense” is enough to pull someone over. Specifically, in this case a “Kansas officer ran a registration check on a pickup truck and learned that the registered owner’s license had been revoked. Suspecting that the owner was unlawfully driving, the officer stopped the truck, confirmed that the owner was driving, and issued the owner a citation for being a habitual violator of Kansas traffic laws.” The Kansas Supreme Court held “the stop violated the Fourth Amendment”, which is the “right of the people to be secure… against unreasonable searches and seizures,… but upon probable cause”. The state of Kansas is appealing this decision, arguing “it is reasonable for an officer to suspect that the registered owner of a vehicle is the one driving the vehicle”.

The driver’s legal counsel argued that the officer had not “observe[d] any traffic violations”; disclosed why he decided “to run a plate check”; or “attempt[ed] to identify the driver before initiating the stop”. The legal team also told the story of how “the spouse who drives his unlicensed wife to a job site and the older sister who drives her siblings to school during their father’s suspension will be at risk of indiscriminate seizures whenever they set out on the road in the family car” if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the officer. Additionally, they referenced the Kansas District Court, which ruled in favor of the driver, declaring that there are families with “multiple family members and multiple vehicles” where “somebody other than the registered owner often is driving that vehicle.”

The state of Kansas contended that “common sense and ordinary experience suggest that the owner of a vehicle is very often the vehicle’s driver.” “This,” the states argues, “provides reasonable suspicion for a brief investigatory stop when an officer spots a vehicle registered to an owner with a suspended or revoked license.”

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