This case presents the question whether an arrest is lawful under the Fourth Amendment when the criminal offense for which there is probable cause to arrest is not "closely related" to the offense stated by the arresting officer at the time of arrest.
On the night of November 22, 1997, a disabled automobile and its passengers were stranded on the shoulder of State Route 16, a divided highway, in Pierce County, Washington. Alford v. Haner, 333 F.3d 972, 974 (CA9 2003); App. 94, 98. Respondent Jerome Alford pulled his car off the road behind the disabled vehicle, activating his "wig-wag" headlights (which flash the left and right lights alternately). As he pulled off the road, Officer Joi Haner of the Washington State Patrol, one of the two petitioners here, passed the disabled car from the opposite direction. 333 F. 3d, at 974. He turned around to check on the motorists at the first opportunity, and when he arrived, respondent, who had begun helping the motorists change a flat tire, hurried back to his car and drove away. Ibid. The stranded motorists asked Haner if respondent was a "cop"; they said that respondent's statements, and his flashing, wig-wag headlights, had given them that impression. Ibid.; App. 96. They also informed Haner that as respondent hurried off he left his flashlight behind. Id., at 97.
On the basis of this information, Haner radioed his supervisor, Sergeant Gerald Devenpeck, the other petitioner here, that he was concerned respondent was an "impersonator"
Sergeant Devenpeck arrived on the scene a short time later. After Haner informed Devenpeck of the basis for his belief that respondent had been impersonating a police officer, id., at 110, Devenpeck approached respondent's vehicle and inquired about the wig-wag headlights, 333 F. 3d, at 975. As before, respondent said that the headlights were part of his alarm system and that he did not know how to activate them. App. 52, 138-139. Like Haner, Devenpeck was skeptical of respondent's answers. In the course of his questioning, Devenpeck noticed a tape recorder on the passenger seat of respondent's car, with the play and record buttons depressed. 333 F. 3d, at 975. He ordered Haner to remove respondent from the car, played the recorded tape, and found that respondent had been recording his conversations with the officers. Devenpeck informed respondent that he was under arrest for a violation of the Washington Privacy Act, Wash. Rev. Code § 9.73.030 (1994). 333 F. 3d, at 975; App. 144-145. Respondent protested that a State Court-of-Appeals
A short time later, Devenpeck reached by phone Mark Lindquist, a deputy county prosecutor, to whom he recounted the events leading to respondent's arrest. 333 F. 3d, at 975. The two discussed a series of possible criminal offenses, including violation of the Privacy Act, impersonating a police officer, and making a false representation to an officer. App. 177-178. Lindquist advised that there was "clearly probable cause," id., at 179, and suggested that respondent also be charged with "obstructing a public servant" "based on the runaround [he] gave [Devenpeck]," id., at 157. Devenpeck rejected this suggestion, explaining that the State Patrol does not, as a matter of policy, "stack charges" against an arrestee. Id., at 157-158.
At booking, Haner charged respondent with violating the State Privacy Act, id., at 32-33, and issued a ticket to respondent for his flashing headlights under Wash. Rev. Code § 46.37.280(3) (1994), App. 24-25. Under state law, respondent could be detained on the latter offense only for the period of time "reasonably necessary" to issue a citation.
Respondent filed suit against petitioners in Federal District Court. He asserted a federal cause of action under Rev. Stat. § 1979, 42 U. S. C. § 1983, and a state cause of action for unlawful arrest and imprisonment, both claims resting upon the allegation that petitioners arrested him without probable cause in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. 333 F. 3d, at 975. The District Court denied petitioners' motion for summary judgment on grounds of qualified immunity, and the case proceeded to trial. Alford v. Washington State Police, Case No. C99-5586RJB (WD Wash., Nov. 30, 2000), App. to Pet. for Cert. 40a. The jury was instructed that, for respondent to prevail on either his federal- or state-law claim, he must demonstrate that petitioners arrested him without probable cause, App. 199-201; and that probable cause exists "if the facts and circumstances within the arresting officer's knowledge are sufficient to warrant a prudent person to conclude that the suspect has committed, is committing, or was about to commit a crime," id., at 201. The jury was also instructed that, at the time of respondent's arrest, a State Court-of-Appeals decision, State v. Flora, 68 Wn.App. 802, 845 P.2d 1355 (1992), had clearly established that respondent's taping of petitioners was not a crime, App. 202. And the jury was directed that it must find for petitioners if a reasonable officer in the same circumstances would have believed respondent's detention was lawful. Id., at 200. Respondent did not object to any of these instructions. The jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of petitioners. 333 F. 3d, at 975. The District Court denied respondent's motion for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, a new trial, and respondent appealed. Ibid.; App. to Pet. for Cert. 25a.
The Fourth Amendment protects "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." In conformity with the rule at common law, a warrantless arrest by a law officer is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment where there is probable cause to believe that a criminal offense has been or is being committed. See United States v. Watson, 423 U.S. 411, 417-424 (1976); Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 175-176 (1949). Whether probable cause exists depends upon the reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the facts known to the arresting officer at the time of the arrest. Maryland v. Pringle, 540 U.S. 366, 371 (2003). In
Our cases make clear that an arresting officer's state of mind (except for the facts that he knows) is irrelevant to the existence of probable cause. See Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, 812-813 (1996) (reviewing cases); Arkansas v. Sullivan, 532 U.S. 769 (2001) (per curiam). That is to say, his subjective reason for making the arrest need not be the criminal offense as to which the known facts provide probable cause. As we have repeatedly explained, "`the fact that the officer does not have the state of mind which is hypothecated by the reasons which provide the legal justification for the officer's action does not invalidate the action taken as long as the circumstances, viewed objectively, justify that action.'" Whren, supra, at 813 (quoting Scott v. United States, 436 U.S. 128, 138 (1978)). "[T]he Fourth Amendment's concern with `reasonableness' allows certain actions to be taken in certain circumstances, whatever the subjective intent." Whren, supra, at 814. "[E]venhanded law enforcement is best achieved by the application of objective standards of conduct, rather than standards that depend upon the subjective state of mind of the officer." Horton v. California, 496 U.S. 128, 138 (1990).
The rule that the offense establishing probable cause must be "closely related" to, and based on the same conduct as, the offense identified by the arresting officer at the time of arrest is inconsistent with this precedent.
Those who support the "closely related offense" rule say that, although it is aimed at rooting out the subjective vice of arrests made for the wrong reason, it does so by objective means—that is, by reference to the arresting officer's statement of his reason. The same argument was made in Whren, supra, in defense of the proposed rule that a traffic stop can be declared invalid for malicious motivation when it is justified only by an offense which standard police practice does not make the basis for a stop. That rule, it was said, "attempt[s] to root out subjective vices through objective means," id., at 814. We rejected the argument there, and we reject it again here. Subjective intent of the arresting officer, however it is determined (and of course subjective intent is always determined by objective means), is simply
Finally, the "closely related offense" rule is condemned by its perverse consequences. While it is assuredly good police practice to inform a person of the reason for his arrest at the time he is taken into custody, we have never held that to be constitutionally required.
The facts of this case exemplify the arbitrary consequences of a "closely related offense" rule. Officer Haner's initial stop of respondent was motivated entirely by the suspicion that he was impersonating a police officer. App. 106. Before pulling respondent over, Haner indicated by radio that this was his concern; during the stop, Haner asked respondent whether he was actively employed in law enforcement and why his car had wig-wag headlights; and when Sergeant Devenpeck arrived, Haner told him why he thought respondent was a "wannabe cop," id., at 98. In addition, in the course of interrogating respondent, both officers became convinced that he was not answering their questions truthfully and, with respect to the wig-wag headlights, that he
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Respondent contended below that petitioners lacked probable cause to arrest him for obstructing a law-enforcement officer or for impersonating a law-enforcement officer. Because the Court of Appeals held that those offenses were legally irrelevant, it did not decide the question. We decline to engage in this inquiry for the first time here. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Ninth Circuit and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
THE CHIEF JUSTICE took no part in the decision of this case.
Jonathan D. Hacker and Pamela Harris filed a brief for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers as amicus curiae urging affirmance.
"Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, it shall be unlawful for any individual, partnership, corporation, association, or the state of Washington, its agencies, and political subdivisions to intercept, or record any . . . [p]rivate conversation, by any device electronic or otherwise designed to record or transmit such conversation regardless how the device is powered or actuated without first obtaining the consent of all the persons engaged in the conversation." Wash. Rev. Code § 9.73.030(1)(b) (1994).