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Whren v. United States

United States Supreme Court
517 U.S. 806 (1996)



Plainclothes police officers pulled over a car for traffic violations after witnessing the driver make a turn without signaling and then speed down the road. Prior to observing these traffic violations, the police observed the two men in the car from a distance and became suspicious that a drug deal was taking place. Whren (defendant) was a passenger in the car and when the police approached the car they observed plastic bags of cocaine in Whren’s hands. Whren and the driver were arrested for illegal drug possession and convicted in federal court after the trial judge, over Whren’s objections, permitted the cocaine to be introduced into evidence. The court of appeals affirmed the convictions.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Scalia, J.)

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Questions & Answers

Why does this rule not apply to inventory searches and administrative inspections?

If officers follow a standard operating procedure (which could be a very vague procedure; see Colorado v. Bertine) when performing an inventory search or administrative inspection, their intent doesn't matter. Right? Is this rule only trying to exclude situations where officers perform an inventory search or administrative inspection with no SOP because then the officer's intent would matter?

HYPO: An officer has a SOP that allows her to perform an inventory search but says she had no interest in promoting the interests justifying the search but hoped she would find contraband, and she does. Her intent doesn't matter if the SOP is in place, right? Or would her admission that she was conducting a suspicionless search invalidate the reasonableness even under the SOP?

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