Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 5 (1996)

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Opinion of the Court

meaning of this provision. See Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U. S. 648, 653 (1979); United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U. S. 543, 556 (1976); United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U. S. 873, 878 (1975). An automobile stop is thus subject to the constitutional imperative that it not be "unreasonable" under the circumstances. As a general matter, the decision to stop an automobile is reasonable where the police have probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred. See Prouse, supra, at 659; Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U. S. 106, 109 (1977) (per curiam).

Petitioners accept that Officer Soto had probable cause to

believe that various provisions of the District of Columbia traffic code had been violated. See 18 D. C. Mun. Regs. 2213.4 (1995) ("An operator shall . . . give full time and attention to the operation of the vehicle"); 2204.3 ("No person shall turn any vehicle . . . without giving an appropriate signal"); 2200.3 ("No person shall drive a vehicle . . . at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions"). They argue, however, that "in the unique context of civil traffic regulations" probable cause is not enough. Since, they contend, the use of automobiles is so heavily and minutely regulated that total compliance with traffic and safety rules is nearly impossible, a police officer will almost invariably be able to catch any given motorist in a technical violation. This creates the temptation to use traffic stops as a means of investigating other law violations, as to which no probable cause or even articulable suspicion exists. Petitioners, who are both black, further contend that police officers might decide which motorists to stop based on decidedly impermissible factors, such as the race of the car's occupants. To avoid this danger, they say, the Fourth Amendment test for traffic stops should be, not the normal one (applied by the Court of Appeals) of whether probable cause existed to justify the stop; but rather, whether a police officer, acting reasonably, would have made the stop for the reason given.

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