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Whren v. United States

Significance, A Routine Traffic Stop?, Lower Court Rulings, Use Of Pretext To Enable A Search


Michael A. Whren, James L. Brown


United States

Petitioners' Claim

That evidence discovered and seized by police during a minor traffic stop was inadmissible in court given Fourth Amendment prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure.

Chief Lawyers for Petitioners

A.J. Kramer, G. Allen Dale, Neil H. Jaffee, Lisa Burget Wright

Chief Lawyers for Respondent

Drew S. Days, U. S. Solicitor General; John C. Kenney, Acting Assistant Attorney General

Justices for the Court

Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony M. Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor, William H. Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia (writing for the Court), David H. Souter, John Paul Stevens, Clarence Thomas

Justices Dissenting



Washington, D.C.

Date of Decision

10 June 1996


Denied the petitioners' claim and affirmed the decisions of the trial court and court of appeals, ruling that probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred is sufficient justification for the police to stop a vehicle and conduct a search for objects in plain view within that vehicle.

The War on Drugs

Beginning in the early 1980s, the Court interpreted Fourth Amendment prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure so as to increase the ability of law enforcement authorities to obtain evidence against criminal suspects. This tendency has been particularly apparent in cases involving the trade in illegal drugs, and has generally mirrored public sentiment.

Related Cases

  • United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873 (1975).
  • United States v. Martinez Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543 (1976).
  • Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106 (1977).
  • Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648 (1979).

Further Readings

  • Biskupic, Joan, and Elder Witt. Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1997.
  • Rights, Liberties, and Justice Home Page: Institutional Powers Home Page: Short Course Home Page. http://voter96.cqalert.com/mall/case6.html.

Additional topics

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