Jersey City, New Jersey – On April 6, 2020, the United States Supreme Court decided Kansas v. Glover, in which the Court held a police officer may stop a motor vehicle if s/he runs the license plate and the registered owner of the vehicle’s driving privileges are revoked unless the officer has information suggesting the registered owner is not the driver of the vehicle.
The facts were simple and occur everyday. A police officer ran the license plate of a vehicle and discovered the registered owner’s driving privileges were revoked. The officer did not observe any traffic violations and did not see who was driving the vehicle. The officer conducted a motor vehicle stop. The defendant filed a motion to suppress arguing the traffic stop was unlawful because the officer did not know who was actually driving the vehicle. The trial court ruled the stop unlawful, the appellate court reversed, and the Kansas Supreme Court reinstated the trial court’s holding, and ultimately, the US Supreme Court, the final decision maker, decided the stop was lawful. Justice Thomas wrote the opinion and was joined by, or concurred with, by all justices other than Justice Sotomayor.
There are a few points to consider as a result of this decision in Jersey City, New Jersey, elsewhere in New Jersey and in all other states. Firstly, decisions of the United States Supreme Court apply nationwide, in all 50 states and all territories. However, each individual state may make laws or have case law from its state courts that is more protective of individuals than a U.S. Supreme Court decision. In this scenario, law enforcement cannot stop a vehicle for no reason at all; pursuant to this case of Kansas v. Glover, unless a state says otherwise, police may stop a vehicle whose registered owner is suspended or revoked without confirming who the driver actually is. But, in some states, the courts may afford drivers more protection: law enforcement may not stop a vehicle whose registered owner is suspended or revoked without confirming the physical description of the driver is similar to that of the registered owner. For instance, if the registered owner is a male and the officer can clearly see the driver is a female, the officer is not allowed to stop the vehicle. This is true even under Kansas v. Glover. The big difference is when the officer is unable to see the driver. Prior to Kansas v. Glover, and in some states, the officer may have had an obligation to obtain a view of the driver before stopping the vehicle; that is no longer necessary unless an individual state requires it.
Secondly, this means that someone driving a car whose registered owner is suspended is susceptible to being stopped and all the consequences that flow from the stop, even if the driver does nothing else wrong. When law enforcement lawfully stops a vehicle, anything the officer sees, hears or smells can lead to further investigation and consequences. So if an officer stops a car that Joe is driving because the registered owner, who is not Joe, is suspended, if Joe has marijuana in the car, is not carrying his driver’s license, or has committed any other infraction the officer becomes aware of, Joe would not be able to escape penalty because he was not the registered owner. Practically, what this means is, if you are going to borrow someone’s car, unless you are prepared to be pulled over even when doing nothing wrong, make sure the registered owner is not suspended.
If you are charged with a motor vehicle offense or a criminal offense of any kind in Jersey City, New Jersey, Newark, New Jersey or anywhere else in New Jersey, call the Law Office of Eric M. Mark for help as soon as possible.