Criminal Justice System
How an Illegal Traffic Stop by Police can Impact Your Criminal Case
Happens to the best of us — it’s a drive home from the bar after one or two beers, and everything’s going alright until (blue and red lights come a-blazin’ from behind) a cop pulls you over. You had been driving in your own lane, obeying the speed limit and your car stickers are up to date. But somehow, you’re still on the side of the road being asked to take a breathalyzer test.
Here’s a testament to your gut feeling: If it doesn’t seem right, that’s because it might not be. Illegal traffic stops by police are a problem, and depending on the specifics of your case, fighting an illegal stop could result in dropped charges. But how do you actually know if your stop was illegal? Here are some things to watch for in Texas traffic stop procedures.
Is it an Illegal Traffic Stop by Police?
Under the Fourth Amendment and Texas traffic stop laws, a police officer must first establish probable cause before he can legally stop or search your vehicle. Probable cause refers to actions, signals or behaviors that give the officer a reasonable suspicion that you are actively committing or planning to commit a crime. Specifically, these probable causes can include:
- Expired registration or inspection sticker
- Missing or stolen license plate
- Failure to stay in your lane
- Failure to follow traffic signals
- Visible signs of illegal behavior, i.e. doing drugs in plain sight
- Matching the description of a vehicle previously reported by another citizen
The police officer pulling you over needs to either have seen you commit a violation or have heard through their appropriate channels that you were in violation. In other words, the hat you were wearing or the offensive bumper sticker on the back of your car is not a good reason for a chat off the side of the road. If the officer can’t produce a reason matching the above list, you might be facing an illegal traffic stop by the police.
Forget the Case if It’s Illegal
At the beginning of a new DWI case, dash cam footage is always one of the first things legal defense teams like our own ask for when gathering evidence. Not only is it important for us to understand the charges, the video provides us with evidence of whether or not the stop was legal in the first place. Our seasoned team of attorneys painstakingly check that the proper traffic stop procedures and laws were followed, in protection of your rights.
It can be fairly easy to dismiss your case should the circumstances prove that probable cause was not established during your police encounter. The Fourth Amendment is so powerful it may even be able to protect you against officers finding a murder weapon or dead body in the truck! That said, an alleged misdemeanor DWI or drug crime might not even go to court, regardless of Texas drinking laws, if we establish that the officer pulled you over illegally.
The One Exception: Warrants
If you have a warrant out for your arrest, the legality of your stop no longer matters. In one of their most recent decisions, the Supreme Court ruled that police may use any evidence obtained without probable cause if the accused had an outstanding warrant at the time of their arrest.
What that means: traditional Texas traffic stop procedures are out the window for you. The cop might have violated your Fourth Amendment as you were being arbitrarily pulled over; but if you had a forgotten unpaid parking ticket that resulted in an unknown warrant, her behavior is now protected by law because of this warrant. There might be other options for fighting your charges in this scenario but getting the stop thrown out entirely would be impossible.
The Bottom Line: Get an Aggressive Defense
If you think you were pulled over and arrested unfairly, look for a strong and experienced Houston DWI attorney to effectively argue your case. Even if you were subject to an illegal traffic stop by police, there is still evidence to scrutinize and arguments to be made for your case to be reconsidered — and best yet — dismissed.
With an incredible track record of dismissed cases and “not guilty” verdicts, Mark Thiessen possesses the battle-ready expertise necessary to defend your rights and beat your charges. Contact Mark and the Thiessen Law Firm to schedule a free consultation and plan your best course of action.
If you found this post useful, you might also find one of our other recent posts helpful as well: The Difference Between a DUI and DWI in Texas.