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Whren v. United States
Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996), was a criminal procedure case heard by the United States Supreme Court that established any traffic offense committed by a driver was a legitimate basis to stop the vehicle.
Summary of Case Facts
Whren was in a vehicle in an area known for drug use. As such, the area was patrolled by plainclothes officers in an unmarked vehicle. The officers noticed that the vehicle in which Whren was present remained stopped at a stop-sign for an unusually long time. All of a sudden, the vehicle turned without signaling and sped away. The officers stopped the vehicle on the basis of the traffic violation (failure to signal, unreasonable speed) and discovered Whren holding illegal drugs when they approached. Whren sought to suppress the evidence (of the illegal drugs) by arguing the officers used the traffic violation as a mere pretext to stop the vehicle as the officer did not have sufficient evidence or probable cause to stop the vehicle for drug dealing.
Was an unreasonable search and seizure conducted in violation of the Fourth Amendment?
Holding and Law
No. The court held that as long as an officer has reasonable cause to believe a traffic violation has occurred, he or she may stop the vehicle responsible for it. Because the officers in this case observed a traffic violation occur the resulting stop, search, and seizure was reasonable regardless of any other motivations the officers may have had in stopping the vehicle.
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