- The Washington Times - Monday, April 6, 2020

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a traffic stop without any actual driving infraction does not run afoul of the Constitution if the officer had a “hunch” the driver has a revoked license.

The case was brought before the justices by the state of Kansas after that state’s highest court sided with the driver, who had been stopped after a police officer ran his plate only to discover the owner of the vehicle had a revoked license.

The officer — though he did not observe a driving infraction and did not confirm the driver resembled the owner of the truck — pulled the vehicle over on a “hunch” the driver was the registered owner of the vehicle.

Once his “hunch” was confirmed, the officer then ticketed the man for driving on a revoked license.

The Kansas Supreme Court said the lack of reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop violated the Fourth Amendment, suggesting the officer had to act on more than just a hunch.



But the high court, in an 8-1 ruling, said the stop was permissible.

“The fact that the registered owner of a vehicle is not always the driver of the vehicle does not negate the reasonableness of [the deputy’s] inference,” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas, who authored the court’s opinion.

He reasoned prior Fourth Amendment cases have allowed a police officer to conduct a brief traffic stop when he or she has “a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor would have ruled for the driver, reasoning that ruling for the state lowered the burden of proof on police to seize a vehicle.

“The majority today has paved the road to finding reasonable suspicion based on nothing more than a demographic profile. Its logic has thus made the state’s task all but automatic. That has never been the law, and it never should be,” she wrote in her dissent.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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