Unlawful Traffic Stops

DWI Attorneys Serving Houston

If you were pulled over on suspicion of driving while intoxicated (DWI) but the officer actually did not have probable cause to stop you, talk to a Houston DWI attorney at The Martinez Law Firm about your options in challenging your charges. An unlawful police stop may provide grounds for the dismissal of key evidence and perhaps the entire case against you.

According to the Police-Public Contact Survey, "An estimated 17.7 million persons age 16 or older indicated that their most recent contact with the police in 2008 was as a driver pulled over in a traffic stop. These drivers represented 8.4% of the nation's 209 million drivers." Were you minding your own business when the flicker of red and blue lights came up from behind you?

Police officers are bound to protect your civil and constitutional rights. If a police officer had no legitimate reason for stopping you, then you cannot be charged with DWI. Race is no grounds for a stop. Being present by a bar or club late at night is no grounds for a stop. Being present in a high-drug area is no grounds for a stop.

A legal stop is when a "police officer accosts an individual and restrains his freedom to walk away because he/she suspects that person was involved in some criminal activity." In order to pull you over for suspicion of drunk driving, a cop must first observe behavior such as swerving, speeding, driving recklessly, driving too slow or ignoring traffic laws. This would be known as "probable cause." Probable cause is what would lead a reasonably intelligent person to believe that an accused person has committed a crime.

Protecting Your Rights During a Traffic Stop

To avoid being stopped by police, individuals can be more mindful about speeding, failing to use signals, rolling through stop signs, burned out lights and factors of that nature- factors that they can control. Police officers tend to stop motorists with the most obvious violations. Always keep your documents in a readily accessible location. Fumbling for your documents might give more of the impression that you are impaired. If you are stopped, what should you do?

  • Be courteous, but admit to nothing.
  • Know that you can refuse to take a field sobriety test.
  • Know that you can refuse to take a chemical test- a burned out headlight or refusal to take a field sobriety test are not probable cause to require a chemical test.
  • Ask the officer if his car has a video camera and if the camera is turned on.
  • You can ask an officer to keep his/her flashlight out of your face and vehicle (some flashlights are equipped with electronic alcohol sensors).
  • Remember that an officer is free to look into your vehicle, but only from the exterior, unless he/she requests to search your vehicle.
  • Normally, a police officer must have probable cause before searching your vehicle and must explain that to you.
  • Like the other pre-screening tests, you can refuse to take a nystagmus test.

Without prescreening test evidence, an officer might decide to move on. Furthermore, without this evidence, the prosecution will have a difficult time convicting you.

When is a traffic stop illegal?

If an officer stops you simply on a blind whim that you "could be drunk," this is illegal. Cherry picking is when an officer stakes out areas around clubs or bars late at night and pulls over individuals selectively, without sufficient legal cause. Waiting for drunk drivers to come along is common on holidays, weekends, late nights or nearby clubs and bars. Police are aware of events such as sports contests, wedding receptions, festivals and company parties. These are not reasons for officers to pull you over - they must have observed erratic behavior first.

If there were issues with your traffic stop, you can contest it. If a DWI defense attorney can prove that the stop was unconstitutional, your case will be dismissed. Like citizens, police officers must obey the law too. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects citizens from unlawful searches and seizures. According to the Fourth Amendment,

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Automobiles are excluded from the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. If the police have probable cause that a car contains evidence of a crime, then a warrantless search of the car is proper under this exception. Because cars are mobile and because they are on public street, they have a reduced expectation of privacy compared to homes. Also, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently ruled that police can make illegal traffic stops if the driver or passengers have outstanding warrants.

How can a traffic stop be conducted?

Many police cruisers have dashboard mounted cameras that record a vehicle stop. An officer should explain to a driver why he/she pulled over the vehicle initially. After an officer has pulled you over, he/she can do any of the following:

  • Request that you get out of the car.
  • Ask for your license and registration.
  • Check to see if you have any warrants.
  • Look at visible areas in the vehicle, such as the seats and floor.
  • Ask questions about your condition, such as if you have had too much to drink or if you've taken any medications.
  • Ask to search non-visible areas of the car.

An officer can ask to search your car, if he has reasonable suspicion that you could be in possession of drugs, alcohol or guns. In the words of Motorists.org, "A legitimate police stop for a suspected drunk-driving incident does not have to rely on trick questions, sensing devices, or gimmicks to justify a chemical test of the driver. The driver's lack of control of the vehicle, his inability to reasonably react to questions and requests, and his physical reactions will be a dead give-away of his impaired condition."

When is evidence inadmissible in court?

After a computer checks on a driver's license, if that check comes back saying the driver has done nothing illegal, than a search that turns up anything after the check is conducted is unlawful and that evidence is inadmissible in court. After a license check, a driver may not be detained afterwards unless a violation is being issued. If something is found in a search during the computer's check, the officer can lawfully detain a driver.

Why do you need a Houston DWI attorney on your side?

If a police officer improperly followed any procedure, from traffic stops to a breath test/field sobriety tests to the legality of the arrest or the way in which the evidence was gathered, you should fight for your rights and to have your case dismissed. We can examine the following:

  • Did the officer seize you?
  • Did the officer have grounds for seizure?
  • Did the officer act within the scope of the seizure?
  • Did the officer have grounds to arrest or search?
  • Did the officer act within the scope of the arrest or search?

In a case, the prosecution has the legal burden to prove that a detention and an arrest were legal. If your traffic stop was illegal, we can contest it and file a motion to suppress any evidence that was obtained. Sometimes police pull over or arrest someone illegally. After an illegal arrest or detention, police can discover evidence of a crime they were previously unaware of. In this instance, a defendant can challenge the stop with a motion to suppress.

When a motion to suppress is won by a defendant, normally some or all of a prosecution's evidence is excluded from a case. In your case, statements, observations of the officer, your blood alcohol test results or field sobriety test results could all be dismissed, because a police officer unlawfully stopped you.

A motion to suppress may narrow the evidence that the state is proposing to use against a defendant at trial. This could result in a dismissal of the case. But before any of these steps are possible, a Houston DWI defense attorney needs to examine all the details surrounding your case. When your future is on the line, don't wait any longer to secure the aggressive legal representation you need on your side! Contact The Martinez Law Firm today!

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