In 1996, the Supreme Court handed down Whren v. United States, which prohibits inquiry into police officers’ subjective motivations in conducting a search or seizure when there is reasonable suspicion or probable cause on which to base the search. The Whren doctrine has largely restricted the availability of the exclusionary rule and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suits to combat pretextual traffic stops under the Fourth Amendment. But Whren’s applicability to 18 U.S.C. § 242, a criminal statute under which federal prosecutors may charge officers for willful violation of rights under color of law, remains an open question. This Note engages with the disagreement among circuit courts and the federal government regarding Whren’s application to § 242. It explores the implications of rejecting or modifying Whren in the § 242 context for protecting the civil rights of citizens who have been targets of corrupt police action, ultimately proposing factual triggers that would permit inquiry into subjective intent in these cases.
Columbia Law Review WHEN COPS ARE ROBBERS: RECONCILING THE WHREN DOCTRINE AND 18 U.S.C. § 242