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Supreme Court upholds controversial traffic stop by police

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld a warrantless traffic stop by a sheriff’s deputy in Kansas that was conducted based on information that the car owner’s license had been revoked.

Charles Glover Jr. claimed that the deputy did not have the required “reasonable suspicion” to pull him over, because all he did was run the truck’s license plate and did not know before the stop that the vehicle’s owner – Glover – was the one driving. In an 8-1 decision authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, the court held that police acted properly.

“We hold that when the officer lacks information negating an inference that the owner is the driver of the vehicle, the stop is reasonable,” Thomas wrote, saying that Deputy Mark Mehrer reasonably inferred that Glover was the one driving the car.

The Kansas Supreme Court had ruled in Glover’s favor, claiming that the stop was based on “only a hunch” that the driver of the truck was the owner, but the U.S. Supreme Court held that Mehrer’s belief was more reasonable than just a hunch, and a “commonsense inference.”

“The fact that the registered owner of a vehicle is not always the driver of the vehicle does not negate the reasonableness of Deputy Mehrer’s inference,” Thomas said.

Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that the fact that the truck’s owner had a revoked license means that it was no longer a common-sense assumption that the owner was driving, but still agreed that Mehrer had reasonable suspicion.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued that Mehrer did not have enough to support his belief that Glover would have been driving without a valid license.

“With no basis in the record to presume that unlicensed drivers routinely continue driving, the majority endeavors to fill the gap with its own ‘common sense,’” Sotomayor wrote. She also claimed that the majority improperly looked to the common sense of an average person instead of that of a reasonable officer, but the majority noted that her arguments – which were also made by Glover – were unconvincing.