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If you have a revoked license, can you lend out your car?

by | Apr 13, 2020 | Criminal Appeals

Yes, as long as it is still registered and insured. However, you might want to warn anyone borrowing your car that they are likely to be pulled over.

That’s because the U.S. Supreme Court just issued a ruling in a case in which a man was pulled over solely because the car he was driving was registered to someone with a revoked license. The police officer who pulled him over admitted that this was the only reason.

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits “unreasonable” searches and seizures, which include traffic stops. Can police reasonably assume that a driver and a car’s registered owner are one and the same?

The case involved Charles Glover of Kansas. He admits he was driving on a revoked license, but he pointed out that the police had no way of knowing that. All they knew was that the car he was driving was registered to someone (him) who had a revoked license.

Glover could easily have lent his car to someone who had a valid license. Should that person be subject to traffic stops merely for borrowing the car?

In an 8-1 majority, the high court ruled that it is generally reasonable for police to assume that a car is being driven by its registered owner. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, wrote that it is simply “common sense” for an officer to assume that.

However, Thomas added the caveat that the assumption would not be reasonable if the officer had evidence that the driver was not the registered owner. For example, if the registered owner were a man in his 50s and the police could see that the driver was a woman in her 30s, it would not be reasonable to stop the woman on suspicion of driving on a revoked license.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan filed a separate, concurring opinion. In that opinion, they clarified that not every revoked license should be considered equal. In this case, Glover’s license had been revoked for traffic offenses. In fact, he was considered a habitual offender. In such circumstances, it was reasonable for the officer to assume that the driver was Glover.

If the license had been suspended for unpaid child support, on the other hand, there would be no obvious inference that the driver was prone to committing traffic offenses. In such a case, it might not be reasonable for an officer to simply assume that the driver and the registered owner are the same.

So, borrowers beware. If the registered owner shouldn’t be driving, the police can pull you over to make sure you’re not him.

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