In many cases (or all involving a DUI charge), people are stopped, investigated and arrested after being stopped for a motor vehicle violation. Once a driver is contacted, officers will be on the alert for signs of alcohol consumption or impairment or other indications that the driver may be involved in some criminal activity such as drug and marijuana possession, transportation or sales. Once an officer notices signs or alcohol or drug impairment or other indications or criminal activity, an investigation will ensue and an arrest and criminal charges will soon result. Common investigative techniques used by officers in investigations following a motor vehicle stop are roadside questioning of drivers and occupants, vehicle searches and administration of field sobriety tests.
Police Can Rely Solely On Information Concerning a Vehicle's Owner to Initiate a Stop
Recently, the United States Supreme Court gave officers more power to initiate a motor vehicle stop even though they may not have observed an actual violation or erratic driving behavior. In Kansas vs Glover, a sheriffs deputy ran a license plate check and learned that the owner of the vehicle had a revoked license. Without obtaining any further information, the deputy assumed the owner was driving, initiated a motor vehicle stop and arrested to driver for operating a vehicle while his license was revoked.
The United States Supreme Court held that when an officer lacks information negating an inference that the owner is driving the vehicle, an investigative traffic stop made after running a vehicle's license plate and learning that the registered owner's driver's license has been revoked is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. An officer may initiate a brief investigative traffic stop when he has “a particularized and objective basis” to suspect wrongdoing. The level of suspicion required is less than necessary for probable cause and depends on “the factual and practical considerations of everyday life.”
The deputy's common sense inference that the owner of a vehicle was likely its driver provided reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop. Empirical studies demonstrate that drivers with suspended or revoked licenses frequently continue to drive. Officers, like jurors, may rely on probabilities in the reasonable suspicion context. The presence of additional facts might dispel reasonable suspicion but this deputy possessed no information to rebut the reasonable inference that Glover was driving his own truck.
Consequences of this Decision
In this age of evolving technology, most all police vehicles are equipped with computers and mobile data terminals which gives officers access to instant information about the owner of a vehicle, whether the owner's license is suspended, whether a vehicle is properly registered and whether the registration is suspended for failing to have proper insurance. Now, and without any further information or observing an actual motor vehicle violation, police can initiate a motor vehicle stop based on information regarding the owners suspended driver's license. Undoubtedly, this will lead to an increase in the number of people being contacted and investigated for crimes such as DUI, drug possession, drug sales, marijuana possession and marijuana sales.