On unreasonable searches and the Fourth Amendment
By Scott Tibbs, April 16, 2020
Should police have the right to stop a vehicle if the owner has a suspended driver's license, or is that an unreasonable search? I have been critical of police power in the past, as I think we have sacrificed too much in the fight against crime and drugs. I've called for the state legislature to make it illegal for the police to conduct sobriety checkpoints, asking every driver passing through to "show their papers" to proceed. But the Supreme Court's decision
in Kansas v. Glover
was the correct decision.
What the Fourth Amendment protects is the right to be secure "against unreasonable searches and seizures," and the word "unreasonable" is the key word here. When the police observe that a vehicle owned by someone with a suspended driver's license is being driven, it is reasonable to assume that the driver is the vehicle's owner - provided the driver matches the rough description of the owner. If a white male friend in his mid-40's asked me to take his vehicle to get an oil change because he was not allowed to drive at the moment, I would not be upset of the police pulled me over to see if I was the owner and driving on a suspended license.
Since the search was not unreasonable, it was not unconstitutional.
Normally, a search requires a warrant, but it has long been established that in the case of imminent danger or when a crime is actively being committed, police can search without a warrant. Have these exceptions been abused? Yes, they absolutely have been abused. But that exception was not abused here. If we're going to make it illegal for certain people to drive as a punishment for certain misdeeds, then police are going to need the authority to enforce that law. Such powers do not violate basic rights.
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