Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 11 (1996)

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Opinion of the Court

an administrative warrant that, he claimed, had been issued on pretextual grounds in order to enable the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to search his room after his arrest. We regarded this as an allegation of "serious misconduct," but rejected Abel's claims on the ground that "[a] finding of bad faith is . . . not open to us on th[e] record" in light of the findings below, including the finding that " 'the proceedings taken by the [INS] differed in no respect from what would have been done in the case of an individual concerning whom [there was no pending FBI investigation],' " id., at 226-227. But it is a long leap from the proposition that following regular procedures is some evidence of lack of pretext to the proposition that failure to follow regular procedures proves (or is an operational substitute for) pretext. Abel, moreover, did not involve the assertion that pretext could invalidate a search or seizure for which there was probable cause—and even what it said about pretext in other contexts is plainly inconsistent with the views we later stated in Robinson, Gustafson, Scott, and Villamonte-Marquez. In the other case claimed to contain supportive dicta, United States v. Robinson, 414 U. S. 218 (1973), in approving a search incident to an arrest for driving without a license, we noted that the arrest was "not a departure from established police department practice." Id., at 221, n. 1. That was followed, however, by the statement that "[w]e leave for another day questions which would arise on facts different from these." Ibid. This is not even a dictum that purports to provide an answer, but merely one that leaves the question open.


In what would appear to be an elaboration on the "reasonable officer" test, petitioners argue that the balancing inherent in any Fourth Amendment inquiry requires us to weigh the governmental and individual interests implicated in a traffic stop such as we have here. That balancing, petitioners claim, does not support investigation of minor traffic in-

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