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Can Arizona Police Assume That the Driver of a Car Is the Vehicle’s Registered Owner?

Police officers make assumptions about their environment all the time. In fact, rarely is a police officer’s behavior based on something that they know to be the case. Police officers may assume, for example, that someone who called 911 reporting a crime was accurate in their description of the perpetrator. Arizona criminal law allows for police officers to make some assumptions; however, there are limits to a police officer’s discretion.

In a recent case in front of the United States Supreme Court, the Court was tasked with determining whether a police officer can reasonably assume that the driver of a vehicle is also the vehicle’s registered owner. The case came to the Court by way of a traffic ticket that was issued by Kansas police officers.

Evidently, while on a regular patrol, a police officer ran a registration check on the defendant’s pickup truck. The check revealed that the registered owner of the truck had a suspended license. Assuming that the driver of the pickup was the registered owner (who had a suspended license), the police officer initiated a traffic stop. During the stop, the officer confirmed that the driver of the truck was indeed the truck’s registered owner, and he had a suspended license. The officer issued the defendant a citation for being a habitual violator of state traffic laws.

The defendant brought a motion to suppress all the evidence that was obtained as a result of the traffic stop, arguing that the stop was conducted in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Specifically, the defendant argued that the police officer did not have a reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop. The prosecution claimed that such an inference was reasonable, absent any evidence suggesting that the driver was not the registered owner.

The trial court sided with the defendant, granting his motion to suppress. The intermediate appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision. On the defendant’s appeal, the state supreme court reversed the appellate court’s decision. The state supreme court was concerned that by allowing police officers to make this type of “stacked inference,” the prosecution would be relieved of its duty to show that the police officer had a reasonable suspicion to stop the car.

Earlier this year, the prosecution successfully petitioned the United States Supreme Court to hear the case, and, on November 4, 2019, the Court heard oral arguments. The Court is expected to release a decision in the case, Kansas v. Glover, sometime in 2020.

Have You Been Arrested After an Arizona Traffic Stop?

If you have recently been arrested after an Arizona traffic stop, contact Attorney James E. Novak for immediate assistance. Attorney Novak is a veteran criminal defense attorney who has decades of experience handling all types of cases, including Arizona drug crimes, gun crimes, and other possessory offenses. Attorney Novak has an intimate understanding of state and federal search and seizure laws, and he takes every precaution to ensure that his clients’ rights are protected at every step along the way. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation today, call 480-413-1499.