Fourth Amendment

Cops Don't Need Another Excuse To Hassle Innocent Drivers

The Supreme Court should not let police stop cars solely because they’re registered to people with suspended licenses.

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At any given time, millions of Americans are forbidden to drive because their licenses have been suspended, often for reasons that have nothing to do with traffic safety. But their cars can still be legally driven by relatives, friends, and neighbors.

Given that reality, should police be allowed to pull over a car simply because it is registered to someone with a suspended license? While the assumption that the registered owner is behind the wheel might seem reasonable, condoning such traffic stops, as the state of Kansas is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to do in a case the justices will hear on Monday, would expose many innocent drivers to the constant threat of police harassment even when they are doing nothing illegal.

Last year the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that pulling over cars solely because they are owned by people with suspended licenses violates the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable seizures. The case involved a 2016 traffic stop in Lawrence, Kansas, by a sheriff's deputy who pulled over a pickup truck registered to Charles Glover, whose license had been revoked.

While Glover was in fact the driver, the deputy did not know that at the time. All he knew was the registration information he obtained by running the license plate, and the Kansas Supreme Court concluded that was not enough to provide "reasonable suspicion," which requires "specific and articulable facts" indicating that a particular person is engaged in illegal activity.

Urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn that decision, Kansas says the probability that the driver of a car registered to someone with a suspended license will turn out to be the owner is high enough to provide reasonable suspicion for a stop. But the data it presents to back up that argument demonstrate nothing of the sort.

Since "there are two to three drivers for every registered automobile in Kansas," the state says, "the likelihood that the registered owner of a vehicle in Kansas is driving his or her vehicle is no less than 33%." The state also cites studies indicating that between 30 percent and 75 percent of people with suspended licenses continue to drive.

That first calculation assumes people with suspended licenses drive as often as the general population, which we know is not true. And even if we take the highest estimate of continued driving by people with suspended licenses at face value, it does not tell us how likely it is that they will be the drivers when police stop their cars.

Glover's lawyers illustrate that point with a "stylized (but realistic) example" of a woman whose license is suspended for six months. If she drives her car twice during that period, taking her husband to and from a medical appointment, while her husband drives it twice a day ("to and from work on weekdays and to and from the grocery store and religious services on weekends"), the probability that she is driving on any given occasion is less than 1 percent.

Kansas argues that stopping cars based solely on the fact that their owners' licenses are suspended is necessary to protect public safety. Yet states commonly suspend people's licenses for reasons unrelated to the threat they pose as drivers, including failure to pay parking tickets, overdue child support, and drug possession offenses.

Such sanctions make it hard to keep a job and run errands. The policing approach favored by Kansas would extend the punishment to everyone who helps out by driving the cars that people with suspended licenses cannot legally use.

The threat of such harassment is compounded by the use of automated license plate readers, which can readily identify cars for police to stop if all that's required is a registered owner with a suspended license. Given the multiplicity and ambiguity of traffic regulations, cops already have myriad pretexts for hassling drivers who pose no threat to public safety. Why give them another excuse?

© Copyright 2019 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. The Supreme Court shouldn’t let police stop cars simply because they’re registered…to people with suspended licenses.

    1. If we followed the 4th Amendment, cops would be required to get a warrant before stopping cars at all.

      4th Amendment: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

      Imagine a place where less cars are stopped and police need to phone in a description of the law violation to a judge under oath and then a judge either issues a warrant or not.

      1. The cops aren’t allowed to search or seize a car without a warrant or probably case. Pulling over a driver is not a search or seizure.

        On the other hand, cops asking to search should not be allowed. We need to “mirandize” cars. The cops should read the 4th amendment to the driver before asking them if they can open the trunk.

        1. That’s incorrect, Brandybuck. Pulling over a driver most definitely is a seizure since they are not at liberty to leave. The relevant question is whether it’s an unreasonable seizure.

          I think (without more evidence supporting the stop) that it should be an unreasonable seizure but Congress and the Supreme Court disagree.

          1. Actually it is NOT a seizure, the driver is being detained. A seizure involves actually taking possession of the car.

            1. being detained IS a form of seizure. Try leaving the scene when a copper has you stopped…. YOU are what has been seized. Any other idea is not accurate.

              Since we are all innocent until PROVEN guilty, this practice assumes guilt.. the owner whose license is suspended IS the one driving the car, else why bother to arrest? Such logic is unassailable. The copper would nevr light him up except he has belief the driver IS guilty of the offense of driving while suspended.
              Of course, one MIGHT be wondering what child support payments, or being stopped whilst in possession of an herb the government likes because it makes them a LOT of money, or even unpaid PARKING tikets, have to do with one’s ability to safely and lawfully operate a motor vehicle? I’d be going after some of the stupid reasons they can yank my license…. out of work through injury or lack of jobs? Can’t pay child support because of that? Deny my ability to drive so if I DO find work I can’t get there? Makes a WHOLE lot of sense… to an idiot.

              This is all about armed government operatives mulcting the general public for money to feed the ever-starving and growing beast.

      2. That is not a correct reading. What is prohibited under the Constitution is an “unreasonable” search or seizure. A warrant, *if* it is issued, must be based on probable cause. These are two separate things. A search does not become unconstitutional simply because no warrant was issued.

        If drafters intended to codify your position, they could have simply written: “No search or seizure shall be commenced without a Warrant upon probably cause …. etc.”

        1. “A search does not become unconstitutional simply because no warrant was issued.”

          This is technically true, but if your criteria for what makes a warrantless search reasonable is too broad (which I think we are long past in current case law) it will swallow the warrant requirement entirely.

          I think there needs to be a strong presumption that warrantless searches / seizures are per say unreasonable with very few exceptions and those exceptions need to be very narrowly defined.

          1. I agree. I am wary, however, of permitting courts to determine, on a more or less ad hoc basis, the “reasonableness” of any particular search or seizure. However, we should keep in mind that the constitution sets a floor; perhaps the solution is for states to bolster their own laws and presumptions against warrantless searches/seizures.

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  5. We will see if the court uses the “reasonable suspicion” standard of our Warrior class or the “reasonable suspicion” standard of the Mundane. Is it reasonable to suspect that every single person you meet is a criminal, potentially an armed and dangerous criminal and a lethal threat? If you hear a noise outside your house at night is it reasonable to grab a gun and start blasting away in the general direction of the noise? If you’re walking down the street and hear a cry of “Stop, thief!”, is it reasonable to draw a weapon against the next random person you see walking toward you with his hand in his pocket?

    I am not hopeful that the court at this late date is somehow going to stop chipping away at the Fourth or even begin repairing the damage they’ve done over the last few decades, but to hell with this idea that cops should have as much free rein to ignore the Constitution as they can get away with.

    1. I’ve been looking to Neil Gorsuch as the greatest champion for constitutional rights on the bench right now. Hopefully the rest of the dickheads will follow along.

      1. This looks to me like a clean sweep of the liberal judges, and I can’t imagine Gorsuch deciding for the state. I can’t imagine what John Roberts or his mini-me will do, but I’m hopeful that this abusive nonsense will be slapped down.

  6. “At any given time, millions of Americans are forbidden to drive because their licenses have been suspended, often for reasons that have nothing to do with traffic safety. But their cars can still be legally driven by relatives, friends, and neighbors.”

    Isn’t that because licenses are issued to people and not to cars ?
    Sounds like a stupid statement to me.

    1. I think you might need more coffee. That’s exactly the point they’re making – just because a vehicle is registered to an unlicensed person is no reason to suspect it’s being driven by that unlicensed person.

      Of course, expand that presumption of guilt a little and cops can stop at will every commercial, business, leased and rental vehicle in the country. Avis, Yellow Cab, Walmart, GM – not a one of them have driver’s licenses.

    2. It should be an obvious statement (not the same thing as stupid). But apparently the cops don’t give a shit and will hassle whoever happens to be driving the car.

  7. If the driver is not violating any traffic laws by his/her own actions, and if the police cannot even identify who the driver is, then the police shouldn’t pull over the car.

    1. For the police, an inability to identify the driver is all the more reason to pull the car over. The driver might be carrying a shotgun, better shoot first.

      1. Joe Biden? Hell, a shotgun is all you need according to Joe.

  8. Seriously, we are missing the point.
    It should be for officer safety that cars are not stopped because they are registered to someone with a suspended license. The cops should stay inside their cars as much as possible. It is only when they get out that they face the dangers of a crazed population full of people exercising their constitutional rights. If they stay in their cars, they are not forced to shoot those reaching for a license, forced to search endlessly for talcum powder or bird poop, of face the trauma of full body searches of really ugly women.

    1. Why won’t anyone think of the police.

      1. because they want to be free to break the law :).

        1. The police? Yeah, they sure do.

    2. These new state laws that require moving slowing down or moving over for emergency vehicles just prolonged this constitutional joke that is the “traffic stop”.

      Cops were getting killed at such high rates for harassing drivers over minor traffic offenses just to search the vehicle for cash, that they pushed for these new laws to lower the rates at which the cops get slaughtered by passing cars.

      1. “”Cops were getting killed at such high rates””

        I’ve never seen any statistic that showed “high rates”. I think this is a myth perpetrated by LEO types that want to push for more laws.

  9. And just wait until the po-po have not just automatic license plate readers, but facial recognition software as a default option in their police cruisers.

    1. When that happens there will be a rash of false-positive identifications, and a huge stink.

      1. When this happens there will be a rash of false-positive identifications, and a lot of whinging and moaning. Followed by sheep-like acceptance of the new standard.

      2. Given that face recognition software is also inherently racist by all accounts, yeah, it’s gonna be a problem.

        Seriously, it seems that facial recognition software has problems with a lot of minority races. Specifically, it can’t tell them apart.

  10. IOW we shouldn’t have driver licensing of any kind. That’s the logical conclusion of this retardation. If there is no way for the police to remove unlicensed drivers from the streets then you effectively don’t have driver licensing.

    1. Or you could do without registering your car. This is the thing that doesn’t make sense — why do I need to tell the state that I own something, why do I need to register that thing with the government? It

      1. Don’t worry, I’m a libertarian world, both you and your car would be registered to private agencies, and they would simply ban both you and your car from the road, with enforcement at all entry ramps. Is that better?

        1. The roads would be privately owned and maintained? Yes, that would be miles better.

          1. I agree it: it would be a lot better.

            But I’m saying: private owners wouldn’t pussy-foot around with “probable cause” or distinctions between driver/car. So if you’re on board with private roads, it’s hard to see why you would get upset about police stops like this.

            1. Because private owners wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about suspended licenses. Why bother to police someone that isn’t impacting your bottom line?

              1. Because the private companies will be required by the government to take any enforcement actions the government wants them to take via regulation. Exactly like how they do it today.

                The government wants to control how everything works while excusing themselves from any responsibility for the results of those rules.

      2. OK, let’s grant that the car has to be registered. It doesn’t have to be re-registered every 2-4 years. That’s really just another tax.

        1. Of course it is. And the excuse is that the money goes to pay for roads, but the funds regularly get siphoned off into pet projects, or out-and-out graft.

      3. They do it so they can tax you.

    2. Why should we have them?

      Its not like there aren’t 50 different standards what what constitutes ‘knows how to drive’ – and every single one of those groups can drive throughout the country without meeting local standards.

      What, exactly, is a license showing? We already know its not showing any particular skill at driving – as the constant stream of assholes who can’t use a turn signal show.

      Other than ‘this is how we’ve always done it’, what value are licenses producing for us?

      1. “”We already know its not showing any particular skill at driving – as the constant stream of assholes who can’t use a turn signal show.””

        Not sure what they do for a driving test theses days, but I had to prove to an officer that I could handle some basic skills when I took my road test.

        The fact that people often choose not to do the right thing (turn signal) doesn’t mean they passed or failed it in their exam. When I took my road test the cop acting as examiner would ask you to change lanes and you were dinged if you did not signal.


      2. Other than ‘this is how we’ve always done it’, what value are licenses producing for us?

        A government-held citizen photo repository that can be sorted through by facial recognition, and an address where you can be found for arrest should they want to find you. Also some fingerprints these days, you know should they happen to be found at a crime scene someday.

        Could it be any more obvious?

  11. should police be allowed to pull over a car simply because it is registered to someone with a suspended license?

    Should police be allowed to pull over a rental car, or *any* car for that matter, because the driver *might* be someone with a suspended license?

    1. They should also be allowed to pull over *any* motor vehicle – because it might be stolen.

  12. “Given the multiplicity and ambiguity of traffic regulations, cops already have myriad pretexts for hassling drivers who pose no threat to public safety. Why give them another excuse?” This is an asinine statement, it’s simple, treat the cop like shit and get treated like shit. Maybe instead of this, the registered crook should explain to every driver what may happen and to drive at your own risk. Hell, I think the car should be suspended too.

    1. What? This has nothing to do with treating cops like shit and getting what’s coming (though you are wrong about that too, cops should not be retaliating because people fail to show them what they deem proper respect). This is about stopping a driver (which is an arrest) without any good reason.

      1. Didn’t it talk about other drivers being harassed? Yes, yes it did.

    2. it’s simple, treat the cop like shit and get treated like shit.

      Lots of examples of people being nice and complying with the cop and still getting shot.

    3. re: “it’s simple, treat the cop like shit and get treated like shit”

      Let’s turn this around. Treat the people you were hired to ‘protect and serve’ like shit and get treated like shit. Start behaving like professionals and maybe we’ll start treating you that way.

      1. And in case it wasn’t clear, part of the definition of a “profession” includes having an organized body that holds your peers accountable to ethical standards. It is not sufficient for you to behave “professionally” in isolation. To truly be a professional, you must make yourself accountable for everyone else wearing your uniform as well.

        Translation: Behave like a dirty cop and get treated like a dirty cop. Tolerate a dirty cop and no matter what your other behaviors, you’re still a dirty cop.

    4. This post is an excellent example of why cops deserve to be treated like the human garbage they are.

  13. The effect of this would driving on a suspended license almost completely unenforceable unless the driver committed a moving violation.

    Also, the fact that the law uses license suspensions to punish non driving violations is a good reason to prevent license suspensions from being used to punish non driving violations, not to make punishment of dangerous drivers nearly
    unenforcable.

    1. Agree. There are some very tangential issues here – reasons for license suspensions, ‘slippery slope’ where this sort of stop is used as an excuse to escalate the stop into something more intrusive – but overall I call this:

      Fake outrage

    2. Is having a license so important that we’re going after people who are driving ‘safely’ and within the law just because they don’t have a permission slip fro the government?

    3. Almost like it’s a free country or something. Proles gonna prole.

  14. As a thought exercise, I regularly consider how I would regulate roads if I were a local road ops & maintenance corporation serving subscribers and toll-paying guest users. I think roadside customer interactions would be avoided as much as possible and limited to documenting crashes involving injuries and/or property damage, though I think I would probably also want to have comprehensive surveillance for drunk driving and enforcement to stop drunk driving for safety purposes (not to lock people in cages).

  15. Equating a traffic stop to “police harassment” and “unreasonable seizure” is a little to far of a stretch for this persons imagination.

    1. You mean you don’t consider being stopped whilst going about your lawful business by an armed agent of the state who could, literally, shoot you in the face in broad daylight and get away with it to be harrassing?

      I consider it harrassing when some rando street hawker or beggar tries to detain me, let alone a police officer.

    2. And get that tail light fixed…

    3. Except that the stop happens to the “wrong” driver over and over and over, as long as the owner’s license is in hock. That sure in hell is harassment.

      1. Well – Was the driver pulled over and over and over again then shot in the face in broad daylight, detained with a police officer with a gun?

        OR – Was it just a general traffic stop…. Maybe its not a “my imagination stretching ability issue”. Maybe I just didn’t get all the facts of the case.

  16. “the likelihood that the registered owner of a vehicle in Kansas is driving his or her vehicle is no less than 33%.”

    And cops should know that courts demand at least a *coin flip’s* chance for probable cause.

    1. I have a sneaking suspicion that 33% probably has commercial/company vehicles thrown in the mix. I could be wrong; but I highly doubt 33% applies to personal vehicles.

  17. That first calculation assumes people with suspended licenses drive as often as the general population, which we know is not true.

    We do? In my experience, the proportion of people with suspended licenses who continue to drive is 100%.

    1. Perhaps. But if they start playing “is this trip necessary?” it will cut down on their “as often.”

  18. here, borrow my car, my license is suspended

    no way, man

  19. Yet states commonly suspend people’s licenses for reasons unrelated to the threat they pose as drivers, including failure to pay parking tickets, overdue child support, and drug possession offenses.

    Concerned Marge Simpson furrowed brow: Mmmmmmmmmm.

    The incident may be unrelated, but taking drugs is not.

    1. If you’ve taken the drugs, you no longer possess them. Possession should not automatically be equated with “under the influence”.

  20. Let’s consider the implications if this change is made. Gazillions of people who are no more a danger on the road than your typical legal driver will be at risk for being shook down for cash for the city coffers, their ability to participate in commerce curtailed, and their lives ruined, with little benefit to the public good. Is this because weed is legal everywhere now and the assfucks need more fine money?

  21. If the fuzz cared about safety more than money/power, they’d require everyone to retest for their license once they hit about 70.

    1. And raise the minimum age to 21.

  22. This question will soon become irrelevant. In the near future, police will simply ask the car who’s driving.

    1. WHAT? Why would they — No one is asking the gun who’s shooting.

  23. So by your logic, if a cop sees someone walking down the road in a suicide vest, there’s no cause to stop that person, because there’s no proof it’s really his vest. Or, if there’s a kid with a gun in a school, there’s no reason to stop them, because there’s no proof it’s his or her gun.

    This comment not approved by Silicon Valley brain slugs.

    1. That is the stupidest comment in this thread.

      Which, given some of the comments above, is saying a lot.

  24. This is a re-hash of an old article.

  25. When we decide to hang them are we just going after the Supreme court or will we include the little Eichmanns.
    “The whole good cop/bad cop question can be disposed of much more decisively. We need not enumerate what proportion of cops appears to be good or listen to someone’s anecdote about his Uncle Charlie, an allegedly good cop. We need only consider the following: (1) a cop’s job is to enforce the laws, all of them; (2) many of the laws are manifestly unjust, and some are even cruel and wicked; (3) therefore every cop has agreed to act as an enforcer for laws that are manifestly unjust or even cruel and wicked. There are no good cops.” ~Robert Higgs

  26. “should police be allowed to pull over a car simply because it is registered to someone with a suspended license? ”

    Yes.

    Because if you are someone that was given permission to drive the car and your license is valid the issue will be cleared up in a few minutes.

    We shouldn’t have to take the chance that someone without insurance coverage is driving and since you won’t be covered on a suspended license, the odds of a driver with a suspended license not having insurance is….like…..100%

    1. “Because if you are someone that was given permission to drive the car and your license is valid the issue will be cleared up in a few minutes.”

      Every day.

  27. The Supreme Court long ago carved out an “automobile exception” to the 4th Amendment, meaning they wanted cops to have the power to pull people over with little more than what the cops thought was either probable cause or the lesser standard, “reasonable suspicion,” which often amounts to no more than a hunch. They have also rationalized that people have very little expectation of privacy when they are driving vehicles.
    It is unlikely they are going to reverse course and who on the Court are the champions of individual liberty? Not Alito, not Roberts, not Ginsburg unless she has a change of personality, so who?

    1. In all honesty, Ginsburg is way overdue for a change of personality.

  28. It all began with government “owning” roads, and with the creation of vehicle and driver licensing the U.S. officially became a police state with Gestapo-like agents able to stop and require subjects to “show me your papers!” Control! Baby, the issue is control. You are controlled, you sniveling Hamarican.

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