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Supreme Court Condones Assumption That the Person Driving a Car in Arizona Is the Vehicle’s Registered Owner

Earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion in a case that addressed an important issue that arises in many cases that begin with an Arizona traffic stop. The case, Kansas v. Glover, presented the Court with the question of whether a law enforcement officer is able to reasonably assume that the person driving a vehicle is that vehicle’s registered owner.

The import of the Court’s decision is in how courts evaluate the legality of a traffic stop. Under longstanding Supreme Court case law, a police officer must have “a particularized and objective basis to suspect legal wrongdoing” to stop a vehicle based on a traffic violation. This has come to be known as the “reasonable suspicion” standard. Notably, reasonable suspicion requires less than a finding of probable cause. The question in this case was whether a state frooper’s assumption that the driver of a pick-up truck was the truck’s registered owner was a “reasonable” assumption.

The Facts of the Case

According to the Court’s opinion, a state trooper was on routine patrol when he ran the tags of a pick-up truck being operated by the defendant. The tags indicated that the vehicle’s owner had a revoked license. The trooper, assuming that the driver of the pick-up truck was the registered owner, pulled the truck over.

In this case, the trooper’s assumption was correct, and the defendant was the owner of the vehicle. The defendant was cited for having a revoked license. However, the defendant challenged the traffic stop on the basis that the trooper could not have reasonably assumed that it was him driving the vehicle.

The United States Supreme Court disagreed, holding that absent any 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traffic stop made after running a vehicle’s license plate and learning that the registered owner’s driver’s license has been revoked is reasonable.” However, the Court noted that its hold was narrow, explaining that “the presence of additional facts might dispel reasonable suspicion.” The example used by the Court was if a law enforcement officer knew that the registered owner of the vehicle was in his mid-60s and the driver appeared to be in her mid-20s. In such a situation, the observed age and gender of the driver would not match the information of the registered owner, and a law enforcement officer may not be reasonable in assuming the driver was also the vehicle’s owner.

Have You Been Arrested after an Arizona Traffic Stop?

If you have recently been arrested after an Arizona traffic stop, contact veteran criminal defense attorney James E. Novak for immediate assistance. Arizona law enforcement officers must follow certain procedures when conducting traffic stops, and their failure to do so may result in the suppression of any evidence obtained during the stop. Attorney James Novak has extensive experience litigating all types of motions to suppress in cases involving Arizona drug offenses, gun crimes, and DUIs. To learn more, and to schedule your free consultation, call 480-413-1499.

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