Cops are easily able to both track and pull over millions of people not because they are doing something wrong on the road, but because they are driving a car registered to a person with a suspended license.
The Supreme Court could now put an end to those traffic stops soon to uphold drivers’ Fourth Amendment rights — which protect against unreasonable searchers or seizures.
While it is not always clear that the driver of the car is also the registered owner, this means people could be pulled over even if they were not doing anything against the law.
The case (Kansas v. Glover) addresses if cops can pull someone over because the car they are driving is registered to someone with a suspended license.
Police rely on the assumption that the car’s driver is also its owner, but drivers often share cars with their family members or friends — and being pulled over can subject them to searches or arrests they may not otherwise have to ever encounter.
According to advocates, that is very dangerous for people of color as black men like Philando Castile, Walter Scott, and Samuel Debose were all shot and killed by police in what began as a routine traffic stop.
“The consequences for black drivers here are enormous when an officer is operating on an assumption that may or may not be true,” said the co-director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center, Lisa Foster, who participated in a brief urging the Supreme Court to put an end to the stops.
“We know that black drivers get pulled over…in some studies, at ten times the rate of white drivers; we know black drivers are more likely once they’re pulled over to be searched.”
Police report that pulling someone over for a suspended license is necessary as the driver may be actively committing a crime and the officer can always let the person go if they are wrongly identified.
In addition, officers want to be able to freely use automatic license plate readers, which are standard over the last decade, to pull someone over when it is a challenge to manually scan a license plate, search for a description of a driver and match that description.
According to the “Free to Drive” campaign, at least 11 million licenses across the country are suspended due to unpaid court or traffic debts and not because the indebted person is a dangerous driver.
This does not include those who have lost their licenses over unpaid child support, minor drug crimes, or other non-traffic related offenses.
“The consequences for black drivers here are enormous.”
Prior to automatic license plate readers, cops usually only discovered a driver’s license was suspended after they had pulled them over for a different violation. And if the Supreme Court affirms the practice of pulling over anyone suspected of driving with a suspended license — the police would have a database of cars ready to stop, according to the managing attorney for the Institute for Justice’s office in Washington state, William Maurer.
The non-profit law firm joined with the Fines and Fees Justice Center in urging he Supreme Court to reconsider the stops.
“It creates a two-tiered justice system: People who are able to afford the fines and fees debt that accompany things like traffic tickets and parking tickets will not feel this intrusion,” Maurer said.