Questions on probable cause


From: Sgt. Troy Christianson
Minnesota State Patrol

Question: If I’m driving a friend’s car whose license is suspended, if the officer runs the plates and it comes back to my friend, can he pull me over just because the registered owner’s license is suspended? Is that probable cause to stop me? My license is valid. Thanks.

Answer: While on patrol, we are looking for many types of violations in an attempt to educate the public and to enforce Minnesota state laws.

I routinely run/check vehicle license plates for many different reasons. Some of them include:

• Illegible tabs on the license plate due to debris or snow.
• Verifying the plates match the vehicle.
• Verifying the driver/registered owner has a valid driver’s license.

When a vehicle license plate is run, we are given the vehicle information (make, model, year, and color), current registration status, registered owner driving status and current warrant status. We also get an alert if the vehicle and plates are stolen, along with other officer safety alerts.

Law enforcement must have reasonable suspicion to stop you when operating a motor vehicle. For example, if the registered owner has a revoked, suspended, or cancelled driver’s license, or has an active arrest warrant, we will need to have reasonable suspicion that the registered owner is the person operating that vehicle or is an occupant with an active warrant. This is accomplished by matching the physical description with the height, weight, eye color, age and gender. If the officer has reasonable suspicion that the owner is the driver and they do not have a valid driver’s license, we are allowed to make a legal traffic stop on that vehicle and take enforcement action.

You can avoid a ticket — and a crash — if you simply buckle up, drive at safe speeds, pay attention and always drive sober. Help us drive Minnesota toward zero deaths.

If you have any questions concerning traffic related laws or issues in Minnesota send your questions to Sgt. Troy Christianson, Minnesota State Patrol, 2900 48th Street NW, Rochester, Minn., 55901-5848; or email


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