Kansas v. Glover

Whether the Fourth Amendment allows police to stop a car when the only reason police have for the stop is that the car’s registered owner has a suspended license.
  • In Amicus Brief, EPIC Urges Supreme Court to Limit Traffic Stops Based Solely on Owner's License Status: EPIC has submitted an amicus brief in Kansas v. Glover, urging the Supreme Court to limit traffic stops based solely on the status of the registered owner. EPIC warned that permitting police stops based on this factor, when combined with Automated License Plate Readers, would "dramatically alter police practices" and "unfairly burden disadvantaged communities." EPIC provided empirical data for the Court which indicate that ALPRs are more widely used in disadvantaged communities and also that car sharing is more prevalent in these communities. The Supreme Court has previously expanded Fourth Amendment protections for new technologies, such as GPS tracking devices, (US v. Jones), cell phones (Riley v. California), and location data (Carpenter v. United States), in response to evolving policing techniques. EPIC recommended that the Court do the same in this case. EPIC routinely files amicus briefs in cases before federal and state courts concerning emerging privacy issues. (Sep. 6, 2019)
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  • In Amicus Brief, EPIC Urges Supreme Court to Limit Traffic Stops Based Solely on Owner's License Status » (Sep. 6, 2019)
    EPIC has submitted an amicus brief in Kansas v. Glover, urging the Supreme Court to limit traffic stops based solely on the status of the registered owner. EPIC warned that permitting police stops based on this factor, when combined with Automated License Plate Readers, would "dramatically alter police practices" and "unfairly burden disadvantaged communities." EPIC provided empirical data for the Court which indicate that ALPRs are more widely used in disadvantaged communities and also that car sharing is more prevalent in these communities. The Supreme Court has previously expanded Fourth Amendment protections for new technologies, such as GPS tracking devices, (US v. Jones), cell phones (Riley v. California), and location data (Carpenter v. United States), in response to evolving policing techniques. EPIC recommended that the Court do the same in this case. EPIC routinely files amicus briefs in cases before federal and state courts concerning emerging privacy issues.
  • Utah Becomes First State to Require Warrant for Data Held by Third-parties » (Apr. 1, 2019)
    The State of Utah has become the first state in the nation to require law enforcement to obtain a warrant to obtain electronic data held by third parties such as wireless providers, email providers, search engines, or social media companies. House Bill 57, sponsored by State Representative Craig Hall (R) was signed by Governor Gary Herbert last week. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled in Carpenter v. United States that the Fourth Amendment protects location records generated by mobile phones. Recognizing that other types of data were in equal need of protections, Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the Court, said "legislation is much preferable to the development of an entirely new body of Fourth Amendment case law." Utah took that advice and passed broad protections for essentially all data held by third-parties, with exceptions in emergency circumstances. EPIC filed an amicus brief in the Carpenter case, has recommended updates to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and recently proposed a comprehensive strategy for Congress to update federal law after the Carpenter decision.
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  • Court Rules California Police Can't Avoid Public Scrutiny of License Plate Reader Program » (Aug. 31, 2017)
    The California Supreme Court ruled that the mass, indiscriminate collection of license plate data by California police cannot be shielded from public scrutiny. In response to an open records request by EFF and the ACLU of Southern California, Los Angeles area law enforcement attempted to prevent disclosure by claiming all license plate data were "investigative records." The court ruled that the license plate data of millions of law-abiding citizens was not an "investigative record." The Court stated, "It is hard to imagine that the Legislature intended for the records of investigations exemption to reach the large volume of data that plate scanners and other similar technologies now enable agencies to collect indiscriminately." EPIC filed an amicus brief in the public records case stating, "Public scrutiny is essential to counter the unique threats posed by these programs of broad-scale surveillance." Documents obtained by EPIC about the FBI's use of license plate readers showed the agency failed to address the system's privacy implications.
  • Senate to Consider Nomination of Senator Sessions for Attorney General » (Jan. 9, 2017)
    Tomorrow the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin hearings on the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. EPIC submitted a statement to the Committee, which stated “Senator Sessions’ record regarding the privacy rights of Americans raises serious questions about his selection as Attorney General.” EPIC pointed to Sessions’ support for warrantless surveillance of the American people and opposition to government oversight. Senator Sessions also opposed Apple in its dispute with the FBI and failed to support efforts to modernize the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The Lawyers for Good Government also raised concerns about Senator Session’s support for the Privacy Act, the Freedom of Information Act, as well as his independence to “prosecute all criminal acts including those that may implicate the President of the United States.”
  • Supreme Court Weakens Fourth Amendment Protections During Police Stops » (Jun. 20, 2016)
    In Utah v. Strieff, the U.S. Supreme Court held today that an outstanding arrest warrant can attenuate “the connection between an unlawful stop and the evidence seized incident to arrest.” The holding reverses the Utah Supreme Court, which had suppressed evidence obtained by an officer who stopped Strieff illegally and ran his ID to look for outstanding warrants. EPIC and 22 technical experts filed an amicus brief, warning the Court that reversing the Utah court would allow vast amounts of personal data stored in government databases—much of it inaccurate—to provide post hoc justification for unlawful seizures.
  • Federal Court Leaves Digital Search Law Unresolved » (May. 27, 2016)
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  • Supreme Court Limits Traffic Stop Searches » (Apr. 21, 2015)
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Summary

A Kansas police officer on traffic patrol stopped Defendant’s car for the sole reason that the car's registered owner had a suspended license. Defendant turned out to be the registered owner, and was arrested. The Kansas Supreme Court held that, without further suspicion that the current driver was, in fact, the registered owner of the car, a stop solely premised on information that the registered owner had a suspended license violated the Fourth Amendment. Kansas petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for review, which was granted.

Law enforcement agencies throughout the country increasingly use Automatic License Plate Readers ("ALPRs") to assess which vehicles to pull over during routine traffic patrol. ALPRs can tell police in real-time whether the registered owner of the car has a suspended license, as well as a plethora of other public and private information. But the registered owner of a vehicle is not always the driver of the vehicle. This is especially so in poor and minority communities, which are also more likely to be monitored by police ALPRs. Kansas's proposed rule, combined with police use of ALPRs, would allow police to efficiently determine every vehicle whose registered owner has a suspended license, and then pull over licensed drivers who have committed no traffic violations.

Background

Factual Background

A Kansas police officer on routine patrol, upon running a car's plates through the Kansas Department of Revenue file service, learned that the registered owner of the car had a suspended driver’s license. The deputy did not observe any traffic violations or suspicious behavior; he initiated the stop solely on his assumption that the driver was the registered owner. The deputy also did not attempt to corroborate his assumption that the driver was the registered owner. The driver turned out to be the registered owner and was arrested.

Legal Background

Investigatory stops, in which police stop an individual to determine whether the individual has or is planning to commit a crime, are permissible under the Fourth Amendment when police have a "reasonable suspicion" that the individual has committed or is planning to commit a crime. Reasonable suspicion must be based on “specific, objective facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant" the intrusion on the individual's right to privacy. The Supreme Court has previously held that random stops to find unlicensed drivers violate the Fourth Amendment.

Recently, the Supreme Court has carefully considered the implications of new technology on Fourth Amendment rules. For instance, in Carpenter v. United States, the Court declined to extend an exception to the Fourth Amendment to cell site location data because of the qualitative and quantitative differences between that evidence and the evidence the exception was originally grounded on. Similarly, in Riley v. California, the Court found that an exception to the warrant requirement did not apply to cell phones.

Procedural History

Kansas District Court

The only question at issue before the district court was whether knowledge that a car's registered owner has a suspended license constitutes reasonable suspicion. The district court found in favor of the Defendant and suppressed the evidence. The judge cited her personal experience in owning three cars, two of which are primarily driven by family members, to support her finding the inference that the driver was the registered owner of the vehicle was not a reasonable inference from the known facts.

Kansas Court of Appeals

The Kansas Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision. The court found that, when an officer knows that the vehicle's registered owner has a suspended license, and the officer is unaware of any evidence that the driver is not the registered owner, the officer's inference that the owner is the driver is reasonable.

Kansas Supreme Court

The Kansas Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals. The court identified two assumptions which, when stacked, comprised the “owner-is-the-driver presumption." First, the officer assumed that the registered owner was the primary driver of the vehicle. Second, the officer assumed that individuals with suspended licenses would continue to drive. The assumptions, taken together, were impermissible because they attribute “a broad and general criminal inclination on the part of suspended drivers.” The presumption also switched the burden from the police, who ordinarily have to show reasonable suspicion, to the driver, who has to now give some indicia that they are not the registered owner. Finally, the court found that the presence of Defendant's car on the road "was not readily indicative of a crime" because the Defendant could have legally allowed a licensed driver to operate the vehicle.

EPIC's Interest

EPIC has a long-standing interest in Fourth Amendment doctrine, particularly where that doctrine interacts with new technology. EPIC routinely files amicus briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court to argue that the Fourth Amendment should keep pace with new technology, including in Byrd v. United States, Carpenter v. United States, Utah v. Strieff, City of Los Angeles v. Patel, and Riley v. California.

In this case, the growing use of ALPRs, which give police unprecedented access to information about vehicles on the road, will likely dramatically expand traffic stops. Because ALPRs are more heavily used in poor communities and in communities of people of color, these stops will disproportionately impact these communities.

Legal Documents

U.S. Supreme Court, No. 18-556

Petition Stage

Merits Stage

Kansas Supreme Court, No. 116,446

Kansas Court of Appeals, No. 116,446

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