A police officer stopped the defendant for speeding and for having an improperly tinted windshield. After a brief discussion with the defendant, the officer realized that he was aware of “intelligence on [the defendant] regarding narcotics.” The officer noticed a weapon when the defendant opened the car door in an (unsuccessful) attempt to locate his registration and insurance papers. He placed the defendant under arrest for speeding, driving without his registration and insurance documentation, carrying a weapon, and improper window tinting with the expectation of conducting an inventory search of the defendant’s vehicle. During an inventory of the vehicle’s contents, the officer discovered a controlled substance. The defendant moved to suppress this evidence on the grounds that the arrest was a pretext and sham to search.
Whether the officer’s subjective intent is relevant in determining the reasonableness of a seizure?
No. The officer’s subjective intent is immaterial in evaluating whether a seizure is reasonable.
The Supreme Court reaffirmed its holding in Whren, in which it noted its “unwillingness to entertain Fourth Amendment challenges based on the actual motivations of individual officers.” The subjective intent of the officer making the seizure plays no role in determining whether probable cause to affect a seizure exists.
The U.S. Supreme Court also rejected the Arkansas Supreme Court’s contention that it may interpret the United States Constitution to provide greater protection than the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court reiterated its holding in Oregon v. Hass, 420 U.S. 7 (1975) that a state can make its own laws more restrictive of police activity but cannot do so as a matter of federal constitutional law in contradiction of U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
532 U.S. 769, 121 S. Ct. 1876 (2001)