The Supreme Court should not let police stop cars solely because they're registered to people with suspended licenses.
At any given time, millions of Americans are forbidden to drive because their licenses have been suspended, often for reasons that have nothing to do with traffic safety. But their cars can still be legally driven by relatives, friends, and neighbors.
Given that reality, should police be allowed to pull over a car simply because it is registered to someone with a suspended license? While the assumption that the registered owner is behind the wheel might seem reasonable, condoning such traffic stops, as the state of Kansas is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to do in a case the justices will hear on Monday, would expose many innocent drivers to the constant threat of police harassment even when they are doing nothing illegal.
Last year the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that pulling over cars solely because they are owned by people with suspended licenses violates the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable seizures. The case involved a 2016 traffic stop in Lawrence, Kansas, by a sheriff's deputy who pulled over a pickup truck registered to Charles Glover, whose license had been revoked.
While Glover was in fact the driver, the deputy did not know that at the time. All he knew was the registration information he obtained by running the license plate, and the Kansas Supreme Court concluded that was not enough to provide "reasonable suspicion," which requires "specific and articulable facts" indicating that a particular person is engaged in illegal activity.
Urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn that decision, Kansas says the probability that the driver of a car registered to someone with a suspended license will turn out to be the owner is high enough to provide reasonable suspicion for a stop. But the data it presents to back up that argument demonstrate nothing of the sort.