Whren et al. v. United States
Decided June 10, 1996, 517 US 806


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Search and seizure

B. Legal Question Presented:

Is the temporary detention of a motorist who the police have probable cause to believe has committed a civil traffic violation, inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable seizures?
II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

"Plainclothes policemen patrolling a 'high drug area' in an unmarked vehicle observed a truck driven by petitioner Brown waiting at a stop sign at an intersection for an unusually long time; the truck then turned suddenly, without signalling, and sped off at an 'unreasonable' speed. The officers stopped the vehicle, assertedly to warn the driver about traffic violations, and upon approaching the truck observed plastic bags of crack cocaine in petitioner Whren's hands. Petitioners were arrested. Prior to trial on federal drug charges, they moved for suppression of the evidence, arguing that the stop had not been justified by either a reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe petitioners were engaged in illegal drug dealing activity, and that the officers' traffic violation ground for approaching the truck was pretextual. The motion to suppress was denied, petitioners were convicted, and the Court of Appeals affirmed."

On appeal the US Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the US Court of Appeals.
B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
The Fourth Amendment clearly forbids a search based on an inarticulate and unsubstantiated hunch that the person stopped may be violating some other criminal law, in addition to the minor traffic violation. The exclusionary rule removes incentive for unconstitutional behavior. The Court should use a purely objective approach when considering the validity of searches. Unavailable


 

III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Brief of amici curiae urging reversal was filed for the American Civil Liberties Union by Steven R. Shapiro and Susan N. Herman.

Lisa Burget Wright argued the cause for petitioners. With her on the briefs were A. J. Kramer, Neil H. Jaffee, and G. Allen Dale.

James A. Feldman argued the cause for the United States. On the brief were Solicitor General Days, Acting Assistant Attorney General Keeney, Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben, and Paul A. Engelmayer.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"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."

The US Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the US Court of Appeals.

Justice Vote: 0 Pro vs. 9 Con
  • Scalia, A. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Breyer, S. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Ginsburg, R. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Thomas, C. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Souter, D. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Con (Joined majority opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the US Court of Appeals' judgment; the Supreme Court affirmed in a 9-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.