U.S. Supreme Court Issues Important Opinion Affecting Many Massachusetts Traffic Stops

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion that will have a significant impact on many Massachusetts criminal law cases. The opinion, Kansas v. Glover, presented the court with the question: whether a police officer can reasonably assume that the person who is operating a motor vehicle is that vehicle’s registered owner. The Court answered the question in the affirmative. The case is important because, under the Court’s new ruling, police officers can now pull over a vehicle for no reason other than the owner of that vehicle has an outstanding warrant.

The case arose when a deputy ran the license plate of a pick-up truck to find out that the registered owner’s driver’s license had been revoked. The deputy assumed that the person who was driving the car was the registered owner, and pulled over the vehicle. The deputy was correct, and the defendant was cited for driving on a revoked license.

The defendant argued that the deputy lacked reasonable suspicion to pull him over. Specifically, the defendant claimed that the deputy was relying on a “hunch” when he assumed that the driver of a vehicle was also the vehicle’s registered owner. The defendant also argued that the fact that the registered owner’s license was revoked decreased the likelihood that the driver of the vehicle was the registered owner.

However, the Supreme Court rejected the defendant’s arguments, finding that the deputy had reasonable suspicion to pull over the pick-up truck. The Court explained that the Fourth Amendment allows law enforcement officers to pull over a vehicle when they have a reasonable suspicion that the driver was involved in criminal activity. In making this determination, courts are to rely on “commonsense judgments and inferences about human behavior.”

Here, the Court held that the deputy possessed reasonable suspicion. The Court noted that the vehicle information observed by the deputy matched the information that was on the vehicle registration. Thus, it was reasonable for the deputy to assume that the driver was also the registered owner. The Court explained that the fact that the defendant’s license was revoked did not reduce the reasonableness of the deputy’s decision, because people frequently drive on revoked licenses.

Several justices dissented from the Court’s opinion, noting that the deputy’s decision to pull over the defendant was not based on his professional experience or training, and was more of a gut instinct. The dissenting Justices also were concerned that the Court’s ruling eliminated the need for officers to provide “specific and articulable” facts to support a finding of probable cause, and instead allow such a finding based on probabilities.

Have You Been Arrested for a Massachusetts Crime?

If you have recently been arrested for any type of Massachusetts crime, contact Attorney Patrick J. Murphy for immediate assistance. Attorney Murphy is a skilled criminal defense attorney, representing clients who are facing all types of serious charges, including Boston gun crimes, drug offenses and other felony allegations. To learn more about how Attorney Murphy can help you defend against the charges you are facing, call 617-367-0450 today.

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