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.