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Whren v. United States

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Bloomberg Law

Citation. 522 U.S. 1119, 118 S. Ct. 1059, 140 L. Ed. 2d 120 (1998)

Brief Fact Summary. A stopped vehicle attracted the attention of a vice officer. A subsequent chase and search revealed drugs.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. In a conventional civil traffic stop, the Fourth Amendment is met by the traditional common-law rule that probable cause justifies a search and seizure.

Facts. A truck stopped at an intersection for an unusually long time attracted the attention of a vice-squad officer patrolling a “high drug” area of D.C. When the police officer made a U-turn, the truck turned and sped off. The officer caught up with the truck, and forced it to pull over. The officer went to the truck and immediately saw two bags of crack cocaine.

Issue. “[W]hether the temporary detention of a motorist who the police have probable cause to believe has committed a civil traffic violation is inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable seizures unless a reasonable officer would have been motivated to stop the car by a desire to enforce traffic law.”

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