Case Summary: Kansas v. Glover (2020)
By: Theophilus Agbi | Vermont Law School, JD Candidate 2022 & Université de Cergy-Pontoise, DJCE Candidate 2022
August 28, 2020
Kansas v. Glover is a 2020 decision that deals with how much evidence law enforcement needs to support a traffic stop under the Fourth Amendment. In this case, a Kansas Deputy Sheriff ran a license plate check of a passing pickup truck. This check revealed that the registered owner was Charles Glover, and that Mr. Glover’s license was revoked. At the time of the license plate check, the Deputy Sheriff did not know who was driving the vehicle. He assumed that Mr. Glover was driving. Relying solely on the information gleaned from the license check, the Deputy Sherriff pulled the truck over. Upon pulling the vehicle over, the Deputy Sheriff confirmed that the current driver was Mr. Glover and issued him a ticket.
At trial, Mr. Glover challenged the ticket arguing that the Deputy Sherriff did not have sufficient evidence to support the initial traffic stop. Deputy Sherriff admitted that he “assumed” that the registered owner was also the current driver, even though he had no evidence to support that. Mr. Glover argued that this assumption was not enough to support the reasonable suspicion standard, which says that officers need “a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity.” A “mere hunch” does not support reasonable suspicion.
The Kansas Trial Court, agreed with Mr. Glover and found that an officer cannot simply assume the registered owner is the present driver without having other corroborating evidence. On Appeal, the Trial Court’s ruling was reversed. Later, the Kansas Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals holding and affirmed the Trial Court’s decision. The State appealed the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling at the United States Supreme Court.
DISPOSITION OF U.S. SUPREME COURT: Reversed and remanded.
In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court reversed the Kansas Supreme Court. Justice Clarence Thomas, delivered the majority opinion to which Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Breyer, Alito, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh joined. Justice Kagan issued a concurring opinion to which Justice Ginsburg joined. Justice Sotomayor delivered the dissenting opinion.
MAJORITY HOLDING & REASONING:
The majority found that the officer had enough evidence to support the traffic stop under the Fourth Amendment. The majority held, that “when [an] officer lacks information negating an inference that the owner is the driver of the vehicle, the [traffic] stop is [constitutional].” In other words, the Court is saying that officers are allowed to infer the registered owner is also the current driver until they find evidence to the contrary. The majority notes that the reasonable suspicion standard “is an ‘abstract’ concept that cannot be reduced to ‘a neat set of legal rules.’” Since reasonable suspicion “depends on the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men . . . act,” officers can rely on commonsense inferences. In this case, the majority considered the Deputy Sherriff’s inference that the registered owner was the current driver as a commonsense one. Since the Deputy Sherriff did not find any evidence to the contrary, the majority found his actions constitutionally permissible.
Through this ruling, the Supreme Court affirmed that reasonable suspicion can be satisfied by inferences drawn either from professional expertise or common sense.
While Justices Kagan and Ginsburg join the majority, they do so on slightly different grounds. These two Justices are not prepared to unequivocally adopt the “common sense” inference. For these Justices, the pivotal fact was that Mr. Glover’s license was “revoked” rather than suspended. Under Kansas law, a driver’s license is only revoked after a driver has committed “serious or repeated driving offenses.” In contrast, Kansas will suspend licenses “for matters having nothing to do with road safety, such as failing to pay parking tickets, court fees, or child support.” Since a revoked license indicates the registered owner has “shown a willingness to flout driving restrictions,”  it is more likely than not that such a driver would continue driving even without his/her license. This higher probability supports the officer’s common sense inference that the registered owner is also the present driver.
Justice Kagan states unequivocally, that she would have not sided with the majority, if the license had been suspended. Since suspended licenses can result from unrelated driving infractions, a suspended license does not support a higher probability that the driver would flout driving laws. For Kagan, under this circumstance, the common sense inference “would not much differ from a ‘mere hunch.’” As a mere hunch, the officer’s commence sense inference would not support reasonable suspicion.
DISSENT [Justice Sotomayor]:
Justice Sotomayor’s dissents for a few reasons. First, she argues that this new common sense standard, is no different than a mere hunch, which is precisely what the Court previously held as insufficient to support reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion is supposed to be based on “perspectives and inferences of a reasonable officer viewing ‘the facts through the lens of his police experience and expertise.’” Second, Justice Sotomayor finds that the majority opinion “flips the burden of proof.” Rather than obliging the State to produce evidence that justifies its action, the majority allows the State to act so long as there is an absence of evidence. Finally, Justice Sotomayor dissents because this lack of evidence means that officers do not have to tailor their suspicion to the conduct of the individual. Without this requirement, officers are given “free rein to stop a vehicle involved in no suspicious activity simply because it is registered to an unlicensed person . . . [and officers are absolved] from any responsibility to investigate the identity of a driver where feasible.”
Justice Sotomayor rejects Justice Kagan’s distinction between revoked and suspended licenses on the grounds that the laws in other jurisdictions may vary from those in Kansas. Meaning that in other places non-driving related offences could cause a driver’s license to be suspended, revoked, or both. Without this distinction, Justice Kagan’s argument falls apart and the “common sense inference” becomes nothing more than a mere hunch.
 Kansas v. Glover, 140 S.Ct. 1183, 1186 (2020).
 Glover, 140 S.Ct. at 1186.
 Kansas v. Glover, 422 P.3d 64, 66 (2018) (“The driver moved to suppress evidence obtained during the stop, arguing the officer did not have reasonable suspicion of illegal activity when he stopped the car.”).
 Glover, 422 P.3d at 66.
 Glover, 140 S.Ct at 1187.
 Glover, 422 P.3d at 66.
 Kansas v. Glover, 140 S.Ct. 1183, 1186 (2020).
 Glover, 140 S.Ct at 1186.
 Id. at 1190.
 Id. at 1188.
 Id. (“[Based on the facts,] Deputy Mehrer drew the commonsense inference that Glover was likely the driver of the vehicle, which provided more than reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop.”).
 Glover, 140 S.Ct. at 1191(“Here Deputy Mehrer possessed no exculpatory information––let alone sufficient information to rebut the reasonable inference that Glover was driving his own truck––and thus the stop was justified.”).
 Glover, 140 S.Ct at 1189.
 Id. at 1192.
 Glover, 140 S.Ct. at 1192.
 See id. (agreeing with the majorities reasoning in her explanation of how things would be different if the driver’s license was suspended rather than revoked).
 Justice Kagan writes “I would find this a different case if Kansas had barred Glover from driving on a ground that provided no similar evidence of his penchant for ignoring driving laws . . . . [F]or example, if Kansas had suspended rather than revoked Glover’s license.”Id.
 Glover, 140 S.Ct. at 1194–95.
 Id. at 1195 (quoting Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 699 (1996)).
 Id. at 1195–96.
 Id. at 1195.
 Id. at 1196.
 Id. at 1198.
 Justice Kagan in her concurrence admits that if the facts of this case were the same but instead the license had been suspended then “[she] suspect[s] that any common sense invoked . . . would not much differ from a ‘mere hunch . . . .’”  Glover, 140 S.Ct. at 1193.
About the Author
Theo is earning his American and French law degrees through the dual degree program established between Vermont Law School and University of Cergy Pontoise in Paris. He received a B.A. in American Jurisprudence and French from Amherst College. As a 2L he participated in the Vermont Law School Entrepreneurship and Legal Lab (VLSELL), and worked in the civil litigation department at Dinse Knapp and McAndrew. During the summer of 2020, he worked as summer associate at Morgan Stanley. He also volunteered with VLSELL and the Vermont’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to educate small business owners impacted by Covid-19 on the CARES Act.