When Can Police Search My Vehicle?

police search my vehicle

“When can the police search my vehicle?” It’s something everyone needs to know. Whether they pull you over for a DWI in Houston or a traffic violation, you have rights. When you know your rights, you protect yourself. 

Unfortunately, the reality is a bit complex. There’s no simple answer to this question. While you have protection from unreasonable searches, what counts as “unreasonable”?

Oftentimes, this falls to how the police officer interprets your specific situation. This makes all the difference between going on your way or heading to the station. It’s essential to understand your rights at a traffic stop. Moreover, it’s important to recognize an unlawful traffic stop. 

Still, it’s also crucial to understand what actions and situations establish a “reasonable” reason for police to search your vehicle. Below, we take a deeper look at when police can search a vehicle. 

When the Police Can Search Your Vehicle

At a traffic stop, “will the police search my vehicle” isn’t always on your mind. Whether you have something incriminating in your vehicle or not, it’s important to know your rights. Here are a few examples of “reasonable” situations for police to search your vehicle. 

You Let Them

Let’s start with the clearest answer to “When can the police search my vehicle?” When you answer “yes,” you give them permission. Clearly, you offer consent for them to search the vehicle. 

This means their search is legal. Simply put, that’s how consent works in this situation. However, this is not something we recommend. There’s rarely a good reason to consent to a search of your vehicle. 

This is true even when you have nothing to hide.  

Clear, Visible Evidence of Illegal Activity

Law enforcement officers don’t require consent or warrants to search your vehicle every time. In fact, there are many examples of legal searches without a warrant. 

For instance, probable cause gives the officer everything they need to perform a warrantless search. In Texas, probable cause comes in many forms. However, the law requires that it is strong enough to support an assertion that you broke the law. 

Here are a few examples of probable cause. 

  • Slurred speech 
  • Reckless driving 
  • Open container(s) 
  • Visible drug paraphernalia

When police observe these issues or behaviors, it gives them probable cause to search through your vehicle. 

The Police Overhear You Discuss Illegal Activity

“Can police search my vehicle if I just mention something illegal?” Yes, when an officer overhears you even hint at illegal activity, it gives them the option to obtain a search warrant. Typically, this is hearsay, which is inadmissible in court. 

However, when the search yields results, the police have what they need for evidence. Moreover, in some cases, the officer witnesses what they believe to be illegal behavior. This gives them the cause necessary to search your vehicle without a warrant. 

For example, you exchange money with someone at a known site for drug deals. Unfortunately, even when you just need to pay your friend back for a meal, this gives them cause to investigate. 

Someone Shares Information About You

With a sworn affidavit from another person, police have what they need for a search warrant. For instance, let’s say a former drug dealer signs an affidavit that claims you were a customer. In this case, the police have what they need for a lawful stop and search of your vehicle. 

Can Police Search My Vehicle…Out of “Necessity”?

It sounds strange, right? What does “necessity” mean when police search a vehicle? 

Oftentimes, this is when an officer pulls someone over and fears for their own safety. This allows them the lawful search of their vehicle without a search warrant. 

However, this does not allow police to claim fear in any situation. Generally speaking, this requires clear video proof of their “safety concern.” Typically, this brings more perspectives and interpretations into your case. 

At that point, it tends to be a matter of your word against theirs. When this happens, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. With a lawyer in your corner, you have an advocate to pursue your best interests. 

Should I Let Police Search My Vehicle If I Have Nothing to Hide?

To be succinct, no

In a traffic stop, your job is to never make the officer’s job easier. When you know your rights, it helps you protect yourself. Under the Fourth Amendment, you have protection from unlawful searches and seizures

Unfortunately, many people forget this right and allow the police to search their vehicles for no reason. 

With that said, it’s important to remember not to consent to a search. This gives you protection because you never know an officer’s history. As such, you avoid a surprise in which something simply “appears” in your vehicle.

Additionally, it’s essential to stay aware of how officers phrase statements. In certain cases, they attempt to make people feel as though they have to consent to search. Do not let them confuse you. 

Remember your Fourth Amendment right and decline their request. If the officer searches your vehicle after you repeatedly decline to offer consent, this works in your favor. Unfortunately, this also tends to become your word against theirs. 

As such, here’s a friendly reminder: You have the right to record traffic stops

Evidence from an Unlawful Search

When police cannot prove probable cause, the evidence is not admissible in court. Additionally, this applies to evidence from illegal traffic stops. Remember this phrase. “When can police search my vehicle? When they have probable cause.” 

Without reasonable suspicion, an officer has no right to pull you over. Moreover, they have no right to search without a warrant. 

Were You the Victim of an Unlawful Search?

Anyone with experience dealing with police knows they don’t always adhere to their own rules. In some cases, police find bogus reasons to search vehicles. Unfortunately, some judges and juries take their statements at face value. 

If you want to know “when can police search my vehicle,” you might need legal help. With aggressive legal defense, you protect your rights and your future. 

At The Martinez Law Firm, our Houston DWI lawyers and criminal defense attorneys protect people from misconduct. Let us help you attain the best possible outcome in your case. Schedule a free consultation with our team today. 

What is the Safe Harbor Court?

safe harbor court

Safe Harbor Court in Houston, TX

This week, Houston announced the launch of a “Safe Harbor” court, allowing those who cannot afford court fines to resolve their cases without an arrest warrant. The announcement came from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and the Municipal Courts Department director, Judge J. Elaine Marshall, on Friday, October 23, 2020. 

Although it is not immediately clear when operation begins, this new court is available to anyone who can prove their inability to pay fines. Two designated judges will be available Monday through Friday between the hours of 3 – 9 pm. 

According to Mayor Turner, this Houston safe harbor court might apply to more than a third of 100,000 cases currently in delinquency. He added that these cases date back to 2008. 

The Impact of Safe Harbor 

Delinquencies and arrest warrants often lead to arrests. However, they have unexpected impacts on people’s lives, as well. For instance, they can result in a hold on someone’s driver’s license. 

In turn, this cascades into a series of effects that impact your ability to keep a job, housing, and necessities. When people find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of fines, they are disproportionately people of color. 

As Houston criminal defense attorneys, we understand how severe the impact of these fees can be on people. Moreover, an arrest warrant carries a heavy toll on those who fall into delinquency. It is important to understand that how judges resolve the case is their decision. 

According to Judge Marshall, they have the authority to waive fees, reduce fees, or even grant community service alternatives. Marshall hopes that Houston residents will fully utilize this safe harbor court to avoid arrest warrants, increased fees, and potential jail time. 

Will I be arrested when I go to the Safe Harbor court? 

During the announcement, Judge Marshall addressed this concern, stating that she’s heard it from many Houston citizens. 

“If you come down to the city of Houston’s municipal court,” she said, “you will not be arrested.” 

She continued, encouraging people to utilize the court so that the city can help people to clear their records. Mayor Turner added that this effort is a key reform recommendation from his Task Force on Policing Reform. 

In their recommendation, the task force called for an improvement to the fairness in municipal courts. To do so, they recommended requiring alternatives to jail time when people are unable to afford their fines. 

Questions About Safe Harbor Court? Call Our Criminal Defense Attorneys 

Oftentimes, people are wary of initiatives put forward by city officials. With a variety of tactics used to lure in people with arrest warrants, this is understandable. If you feel hesitant about using the safe harbor court to clear or reduce your fines, feel free to contact our Houston criminal defense attorneys. 

Our legal team can work with you to explore your options and ensure you pursue the best possible outcome. Contact us today for a free consultation. 

Arrested at the DMV?

can i be arrested for warrants at the DMV?

Arrested for Warrants: Will They Check at the DMV? 

Getting arrested for warrants can happen in unexpected situations. Moreover, warrants for your arrest happen for a number of reasons. Administrators make mistakes, and so can you. For example, you might never receive court date information or miss court due to a scheduling conflict. 

However, whether on purpose or not, arrest warrants are an added annoyance to tedious legal situations. When your new court date is weeks away and you need to renew your license, it may leave you unsure of how the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will treat a Houston resident. 

Does the DMV Check for Warrants When I Need a State ID? 

The short answer is yes. The DMV checks for outstanding warrants as well as bench warrants. Moreover, they might have a DPS officer on-site. Some cities use this tactic to have people arrested for warrants. 

However, the most common way people are arrested for warrants is when the police pull them over. The officer runs your ID information, and outstanding warrants can lead to your arrest. A Houston attorney can help you work through this process. 

Can I Still Go to the DMV with a Warrant? 

You are free to go to the DMV with outstanding warrants. However, they will see active warrants for your arrest whenever they run your information. 

If they do, they have several options. 

  • Signal a DPS officer or plainclothes officer. 
  • Deny your services until you handle the warrants. 
  • Call local law enforcement. 

Can I Get a License With Outstanding Warrants? 

You are more likely to be arrested for warrants. It is uncommon for a DMV employee to offer a new license or renew a license when someone has a warrant for their arrest. Oftentimes, officers at any government buildings, bus stations, and airports check your ID against a national police database. 

When you have an outstanding warrant, it is important to understand that it can prevent you from traveling, driving, or even looking for a job. When employers run background checks, they can see whether individuals have outstanding warrants. 

If I Have Warrants, How Can I Get an ID? 

The most important thing you can do is handle your warrant first. This may include paying fines, speaking with a probation officer, or attending a court date. If you are unsure of the problem, speak to a Houston criminal defense attorney. 

A Houston attorney has the ability to look up your record. Moreover, they can walk you through your options. 

Alternatively, you can have a police department look up your record. However, while you’re on the phone, they may know where you are. While the police might have you arrested for warrants, your Houston criminal defense attorney will advocate for your rights and fight to ensure the best outcome possible. 

Are You Worried About Being Arrested for Warrants? 

Warrants do not disappear on their own. They can follow you across state lines. If you want to avoid being arrested for warrants, these are your main options. 

  • Turn yourself in, preferably with a criminal defense attorney at your side 
  • Wait for the police to find you

Warrants for arrest are common for misdemeanors, vehicle registration issues, probation violations, and other similar legal issues. 

As Houston criminal defense attorneys, we offer legal advice to people who wish to protect their rights. When we build an attorney-client relationship, we defend our clients against their charges and fight to lower any fines. Ultimately, our goals is to have the state lift the warrant. 

To avoid being arrested for warrants, contact our Houston law firm today for a free consultation. 

When Does a DWI Become a Felony?

when does a dwi become a felony.

What Should I Know so I can Protect Myself? 

Any criminal defense attorney will tell you that felony DWI charge is nothing to scoff at. We all know the word “felony” carries a lot of weight, but not everyone understands how quickly a misdemeanor can become much more serious. In mere moments, lives can be forever altered because of one decision to drink and drive. 

Driving while intoxicated is a crime that occurs when someone operates a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol with a BAC of .08% or higher. It is commonly referred to as a DWI or drunk driving. When arrested for a DWI, you can also have your driver’s license suspended.

Every state has its own laws for DWI offenses, and it can be difficult to navigate. A Houston DWI defense attorney can tell you about the specific DWI laws in Texas. When you’ve been arrested for a third DWI felony, it is vital that you contact a DWI lawyer immediately. Doing so can improve your case significantly and potentially reduce your charges or even have them dismissed. 

An attorney versed in criminal law will help you to avoid a DWI conviction and provide the best legal advice for your case.

When Does a DWI Become a Felony? 

In many states, Texas included, driving while intoxicated is a misdemeanor offense. However, there are cases where the actions of the impaired driver can rise to the level of a felony. When this happens, it means there are specific factors present in the case. 

  • The person charged is a repeat offender charged on their third DWI charge.
    • Note: A second DWI offense is a class A misdemeanor. However, it can also rise to the level of a felony when any of the below factors are present in your case.
  • Intoxication assault, or a non-fatal injury, resulting from a DWI is a 3rd-degree felony.
  • Intoxication manslaughter, or a death as the result of a DWI incident, is a 2nd-degree felony.
  • The DWI involved other elements or reckless behavior or disregard for the safety of others. 
  • The DWI incident involved a minor’s presence in the vehicle, resulting in a state jail felony.

It is important to note that in Texas, felony DWI cases can be divided into into three (3) types of felonies from a state jail felony, 3rd degree, and 2nd degree. Again, this depends on the severity of the incident and the person’s criminal record. 

What Are Some of the Judicial Penalties of a Felony DWI? 

The legal consequences of a felony DWI charge are quite severe. They include punishments that involve prison sentences over a year or longer along with hefty criminal fines of up to $10,000.

For example, state jail felonies range in punishment from 6 months to 2 years in the state jail. As with most felonies, the conviction can remain on their record for the rest of their life. This has a severe impact on their social life as well. 

When you’re convicted of a felony DWI, you can lose many of your rights. These include the right to drive a motor vehicle, the right to vote in elections, and the right to retain custody of your children. Your status as a felon can also have a lasting impact on your ability to find a home or a job. Likewise, a felony conviction will strip you of your second amendment rights to arm yourself, meaning you will no longer be able to own firearms.

To contrast, in a misdemeanor DWI charge, you may be sentenced to less than a year in jail with much smaller fines. While it can still impact your ability to find a job later on, it does not carry the same weight as a felony DWI charge. 

Do I Need to Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney to Help with My Felony Chargse? 

Being charged with a felony DWI is an incredibly serious matter. Aside from the complex laws involved, an experienced Houston DWI attorney can advocate on your behalf and attempt to reduce your sentence. 

Your lawyer will prepare your case, research the laws in Harris County, and determine what defense or course of action is best for you. A Houston DWI lawyer will fight to protect your rights and strive to attain the best possible outcome for your case. 

If you are facing the possibility of a DWI felony, you need a defense plan that enhances your chances of reduced charges. The impact that jail time and fines have on you and your family is hard to imagine yet very severe. 

You need a DWI defense attorney who will help you to think of how to mitigate these circumstances. Herman Martinez has been working with DWI clients since 1999. He utilizes his vast experience and legal knowledge to provide the best possible defense. 

After an Arrest: Remaining Silent

remain silent during and after arrest.

The Fifth Amendment is clear—


“no person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime…nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”

Law enforcement may or may not inform you of your rights, which means it is up to you to be informed and understand beforehand what your rights are.  One of those rights is remaining silent during an arrest or your Fifth Amendment.

Before interrogating an individual, police must provide them with their Miranda warnings and inform a person being arrested of their right to silence. This means law enforcement cannot use a suspect’s silence as evidence of guilt. If a suspect is not technically “in custody” police are obligated to let them know and that they are free to leave.

In order to keep the government from using your silence against you, you need to explicitly invoke your right to silence. Remaining silent during an arrest is your right as the 5th Amendment.  You need to say something to the effect that you are invoking your privilege against self-incrimination.

If you have been arrested and wisely choose to exercise your right to silence until you have had the chance to speak with a Houston criminal defense attorney, you need to make this known to whoever is interrogating you. There is an exact formula to invoke your Miranda right to silence; just clearly and briefly state you do not wish to speak with law enforcement.

Speak with The Martinez Law Firm today if you or a loved one has been arrested!

Racial Profiling Case Stirs Up Controversy in Houston

Racial profiling causes stir with Houston Police, criminal defense lawyer Herman Martinez explains

In Houston, the police have been accused of racial profiling when they arrested two African-Americans and a white teenager after seeing her with the two men and assuming she had been stolen or was a runaway. In reality, the girl was a dancer who was travelling with her dance partner and trainer throughout the United States to head to a hip-hop academy and tape a video.

The police stopped the unlikely trio at a gas station and handcuffed them, putting them all into patrol cars and taking them to the police station. When the police called the 13-year-old blonde girl’s parents, they were shocked by the law enforcement’s tone. They said that their daughter was exactly where they wanted her to be, and they had given her dance instructor a plethora of papers to help prove that they were travelling in a legal fashion.

The parents say that the dance instructor had his student’s birth certificate, insurance card, and every contact number that was necessary. He also had a signed letter from the parents acknowledging that he had permission to care for the teenager. The police eventually let the threesome go, but stirred up a lot of frustrations in the midst of the situation.

Sometimes, police will racially profile individuals and will make assumptions that are incorrect or are even hurtful. If you think you have been a victim of racial profiling by a police officer, or have been accused of a crime based on your race or culture, then you need well versed criminal defense attorneys like Herman Martinez and his team to assist you in your case. With the right Houston criminal defense attorney on your side, you may be able to prove that you were racially profiled in arrest and do not deserve the penalties that you are facing.
Contact the firm today to learn more about these types of cases!