Whren v. United States

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Whren v. United States
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued April 17, 1996
Decided June 10, 1996
Full case name Michael A. Whren and James L. Brown, Petitioners, v. United States
Citations 517 U.S. 806 (more)
116 S.Ct. 1769; 135 L.Ed.2d 89
Prior history Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
Subsequent history None
Any traffic offense committed by a driver is a legitimate legal basis for a traffic stop.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Scalia, joined by unanimous court
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. IV

Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996)[1], was a unanimous United States Supreme Court decision[1] that "declared that any traffic offense committed by a driver was a legitimate legal basis for a stop."[2]

The case's Supreme Court syllabus states that the court held that "the temporary detention of a motorist upon probable cause to believe that he has violated the traffic laws does not violate the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable seizures, even if a reasonable officer would not have stopped the motorist absent some additional law enforcement objective." In other words, it does not matter if the traffic stop was pretextual, so long as there was independent justification for the stop.

Facts of the case[edit]

On a June night in 1993 two Vice Squad officers for the District of Columbia were assigned to a high drug neighborhood in an unmarked vehicle. During routine patrol they observed Michael A. Whren and James L. Brown, in an SUV, stopped at a corner for about 20 seconds. Upon seeing the officers turning around Whren and Brown turned right sharply, without signalling, and sped off. The officers pursued them and pulled them off to the side of the road. As the officers approached the vehicle one of them noticed two plastic bags of crack cocaine in Mr. Whren's hand. Both suspects were arrested and charged with federal drug violations. Before trial, counsel for the defense moved to suppress the drug evidence. They argued that the traffic stop was only a pretext to investigate possible drug crimes, without probable cause, in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. The motion to suppress was denied by the District Court and both defendants were convicted. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide this question: "Did the officers conduct an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment?"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Whren v. United States | The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law". oyez.org. Retrieved 2014-04-17. 
  2. ^ "HR 118 Continued...". civilliberties.org. Retrieved 2014-04-17. 

External links[edit]