Blog Post

Can driving a car registered to an unlicensed person get me pulled over?

Imagine a Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputy who spots a Chevy pickup truck drive past while he’s on patrol. This deputy runs the truck’s license plate numbers and discovers that the truck owner’s license has been revoked. Instinctively, the deputy decides to follow this truck. The deputy wants to stop the truck, but he has a problem—he simply has no grounds to do so.

The driver is not violating any traffic laws. He isn’t speeding and has obeyed all the rules of the road. Even worse, the deputy cannot 100% confirm that the driver is the truck’s registered owner. Unfazed, the deputy assumes that the driver is in fact the truck’s owner, flips on his lights, and pulls the truck over…

This is a true story that happened to Charles Glover, a Kansas man driving with a revoked license. Charles was stopped, cited and arrested by the deputy. The reason for the stop was because the truck Charles drove was registered to another driver with a revoked license.

Charles story poses a serious 4th Amendment question: Can the police pull over a car simply because it is owned by someone with a suspended driver’s license?

Surprisingly, the answer is yes, according to a recent U.S. Supreme Court case. In April of this year, the Supreme Court, in an 8-to-1 decision, held that, “an investigative traffic stop, made after running a vehicle’s license plate, and learning the registered owner’s driver’s license has been revoked, is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” Kansas v. Glover, 140 S. Ct. 1183 (2020).

Knowing your rights: A quick 101 on reasonable suspicion

Before Kansas v. Glover, the U.S. Supreme Court has previously defined reasonable suspicion, which is rooted in the 4th Amendment. Remember, our 4th Amendment protects a person’s individual privacy rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

In Camara v. Municipal Court, the Supreme Court determined that as long as the need for the search and seizure outweighs the privacy intrusion of the person, then the search is justified. However, Terry v. Ohio elaborated on this rule, holding that a police officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts that reasonably warrant a belief of possible criminal behavior. The facts that the officer observes must draw rational inferences to support the officer’s belief. Finally, in Delaware v. Prouse, a patrol officer cannot pull someone over without observing a traffic violation, or other suspicious activity. In other words, the officer cannot pull a driver over based on a mere “hunch”.

Kansas vs Glover

According to the Supreme Court’s majority, the decision boiled down to “common sense”. Id. Justice Thomas, who wrote the opinion, stated that the deputy used his database info and observations of the truck to match the description of the registered vehicle. Id. Under these facts, the deputy had “reasonable suspicion that a specific individual was potentially engaged in specific criminal activity—driving with a revoked license.” Id. at 5. Justice Thomas also noted that it is not unreasonable to infer, using common sense, that the driver of a vehicle is the registered owner. Id. at 4. Justice Thomas then reasoned that, based on this common sense, making a traffic stop was to ensure that only those qualified to drive are operating the vehicle. Id. at 5.

The concurrence

Justice Kagan agreed with the majority, but for a very different reason. She reasoned that, because Kansas law only revokes licenses when the driver commits serious or repeated offenses, the plate search results indicated to the deputy that the truck’s owner, Charles, had a willingness to ignore his restrictions and drive anyway. Id. at 6. This, according to Justice Kagan, was enough reasonable suspicion to pull the truck over. Id.

The dissent

Justice Sotomayor strongly disagreed with the majority’s idea of common sense. Id. at 9. She reasoned that a police stop must be “individualized” or assessed by the situation, not based on a mere likelihood that the driver is engaged in wrongdoing. Id. In other words, her stance on the stop required “some observation or report” about the driver’s behavior, not merely because the vehicle’s owner had a revoked license. Id. When speaking about the consequences of the majority’s holding, Justice Sotomayor wrote:

“The majority underestimates officers’ capabilities and instead gives them free rein to stop a vehicle involved in no suspicious activity simply because it is registered to an unlicensed person. That stop is based merely on a guess or a ‘hunch about the driver’s identity.’”

The effects of Glover in Arizona

So, what guidance does Glover give Arizona drivers? While the case’s holding may vary from state-to-state across the country, its decision serves as a strict warning here in Arizona—a state where driving laws are already harsh as it is. According to the Department of Public Safety, Arizona law enforcement conducted over 17,000 DUI arrests in 2019 across all counties.

Glover suggests that officers are permitted to stop cars who are registered to owners with suspended or revoked licenses—even without knowing who is driving. And with current police technology like Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR), officers can picture-scan thousands of license plates on the road per minute, allowing them to flag and stop many cars on the road in record time. Arizona is a state that uses ALPR technology.

Thanks to the decision in Glover, Arizona officers who use ALPR may pull you over if the car you are driving is registered to an owner who has a revoked or suspended license. It does not matter that you were only borrowing your friend’s car or using a spare family car. However unfair this pull-over may appear; Arizona officers may stop you as the deputy did with Charles—even if you have committed no traffic violations. It is crucial that you understand the impacts of Glover and how it affects your rights.

Chuck Franklin Law defends 4th Amendment rights for Arizona drivers. We understand how cases such as Glover impacts Arizona drivers on the road. If you have been stopped for a DUI, call (480) 545 – 0700, or visit Chuck Franklin Law.

A female police officer, with a badge visible on her uniform, is writing on a notepad beside a car, with two other officers standing in the background. This scene typically represents a traffic stop by law enforcement, where documentation and vehicle registration details are being checked.

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