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US Supreme Court to Hear Important Fourth Amendment Criminal Defense Case That Could Completely Transform an Officer’s Ability to Pull You Over for Reasonable Suspicion


The US Supreme Court will soon hear a case that could have drastic ramifications for our Fourth Amendment rights when it comes to traffic stops. Specifically, the Court will have to answer the question of whether the owner of a car having their driver’s license suspended or revoked constitutes reasonable suspicion that would allow a police officer to pull their associated vehicle over.

There is no question that this case is going to affect millions of drivers: In fact, at least 11 million drivers have had their licenses suspended simply due to having unpaid court debts, arguably making such a stop unconstitutional. The Fourth Amendment ensures that Americans do not lose the right to privacy simply because they owe the government a debt. And yet, condoning pulling someone over simply due to a license plate being associated with an expired driver’s license would do just that: In a number of states, license suspension is very rarely actually connected to public safety; driver’s licenses are often suspended for not paying traffic tickets or defaulting on student loans, or even engaging in minor pedestrian offenses, such as jaywalking. As a result, those who are targeted for tickets are also the ones who tend to suffer the most from license suspensions, including poor communities and communities of color.

Police Officers Are Not Authorized To Make Assumptions As To Who Is Driving

A huge, overarching issue in this case  is the fact that it is not illegal or a crime to own and register a car if your license has been suspended or revoked, nor is it illegal to let someone else drive that car. It is especially of concern – as the Kansas Supreme Court noted in siding with defendant – given that police officers do not know who’s actually driving the car when they pull the person over. In allowing for the officer to presume who the driver is, a state effectively no longer has to prove that the officer had “particular and individualized suspicion,” and this relieves the state of its burden of proof and shifts that burden to the driver.

It is concerning that a state would condone a police officer in assuming that the owner of the vehicle is the one driving that vehicle, and use this to justify pulling them over. However, that appears in the case from the perspective of a number of states, as not only has the Department of Justice filed an amicus brief on the side of Kansas, but 17 state attorneys general followed suit.

The Issue Of Automated License Plate Readers & Equating Crimes With Debts

The case will also address automated license plate readers, which enable officers to capture thousands of license plates per minute, and are becoming increasingly common. If the Court condones this technology in deciding this case, this could open up a Pandora’s box of revenue-driven practices, which would include flagging and stopping people simply because they have an outstanding court debt.

Contact Our North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you have been the victim of an unreasonable search and seizure, contact our experienced North Carolina criminal attorneys at the Hauter Law Firm, PC today to find out how we can help ensure that your rights are protected.



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