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Whren v. United States

A Routine Traffic Stop?

On the evening of 10 June 1993 two Washington, D.C. police officers cruised the streets of an area of the city known to be a center of the illegal drug trade. The officers were in plain clothes and drove an unmarked car as they looked for suspicious activity along their route. They soon spotted something that aroused their suspicions: a dark-colored small truck of a type favored by young drug dealers which waited an inordinate amount of time at a stop sign while its driver looked down toward the passenger in the front seat. When the officers made a U-turn to investigate the situation, the small truck made a right turn without using its turn indicator and began to speed off. The officers then followed the truck until it reached a stoplight, whereupon one of the officers stepped out, identified himself to the driver of the truck (petitioner Brown), and directed him to put his vehicle in park.

When the officer approached the driver's window he saw two large bags containing a white substance which turned out to be crack cocaine. Brown and Whren were then arrested and charged with violation of several federal drug laws. The petitioners entered a pretrial motion to suppress the evidence obtained by the police search of their truck, arguing that the authorities had no reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe that they were engaged in drug trafficking. They also asserted that the traffic stop was a pretext, and that the police had really intended to look for drugs in the truck simply because it was a model favored by drug dealers and was occupied by two young African American men.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentWhren v. United States - Significance, A Routine Traffic Stop?, Lower Court Rulings, Use Of Pretext To Enable A Search