Your Rights in a DWI Traffic Stop
There is likely nothing more upsetting than getting pulled over by the police after an evening out. Perhaps you’ve had a single or even a couple of drinks but you are in no way intoxicated – or even ‘buzzed’. However, the police have targeted you for some reason and are not likely to let you go without putting you through intense scrutiny. An error on their part means they’ve wasted their time and the taxpayers’ money so it is not out of the question that the goal is to make the ‘facts’ fit the circumstance. The following information is meant to make a traffic stop as painless as possible and perhaps allow you to end it without so much as a ticket.
The most important thing to realize is that attitude is everything. When the officer steps to the vehicle it is best to be pleasant and compliant. The reason for this is simple. It is not out of the realm of possibility that if a citizen creates a contentious environment for the police they are likely to return the favor. Remember, these people are doing their job – and it is one that comes with inherent dangers including the act of approaching a stranger’s car. This does not, however, mean that you must throw all your rights out the window in the process.
Never get out of your car or truck unless instructed to do so. The officer may begin the exchange by asking for your license, insurance and registration which he or she will validate. In addition the police may question if you know why they stopped you. Do NOT respond in the positive to this question but instead reply simply that you ‘have no idea’. Allow the officer to indicate his purpose for ‘pulling you over’. It is best to speak as little as possible in a traffic stop. Law enforcement is trained to glean information that can be used as an excuse for an arrest. In the course of the exchange with the officer he or she may question whether or not you have been drinking and if so how much. Do not lie to the police. This will only complicate the situation. To begin with even the odor of a single beer in the close confines of a car is detectable. But you are not required to ‘implicate yourself’ either. The best choice is to politely respond that you would prefer not to answer the question at all – an option most people do not realize is available to them. If the officer asks you to exit your vehicle you are required to do so but if he asks to search your person or vehicle you may considerately but firmly refuse. On the other hand, if he or she demands this action then you have no choice but to comply. Be sure that you understand whether or not they are asking or telling. Always refuse a field sobriety or breathalyzer test on the spot. Should this occur and the officer so chooses you will then be taken to a hospital where your blood can be drawn. It is best to comply at this time – but request a second blood sample be drawn by a different hospital employee – and then request a Houston DWI lawyer and say nothing else.
What Does a Police Officer Need to Justify Pulling You Over for a DWI? Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause
In Texas, driving while intoxicated (DWI) convictions have serious repercussions that can follow you for life. From jail time and hefty fines to license suspension, an intoxicated driver faces several major penalties after a DWI. A DWI conviction may lead to job termination, making it even more difficult to afford the expense of the conviction.
The law doesn’t give police officers in Texas free reign to pull someone over for no reason. The officer must have a reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Here’s what you need to know if a police officer appears to pull you over without reason.
What Defines Reasonable Suspicion or Probable Cause?
A police officer can pull you over when he or she believes you’ve violated one of the driving laws in Texas. There are a variety of reasons an officer may give to justify pulling you over, from speeding to failing to use a turn signal to running a red light. When an officer has enough information to support a reasonable belief that a driver has committed a crime, it’s probable cause. It doesn’t take a lot for an officer to show probable cause for a DWI. If an officer saw you swerving, driving erratically, or breaking a traffic provision, it’s enough to pull you over.
An officer may also pull you over for a DWI with reasonable suspicion that you’re breaking the law. There’s no precise description of reasonable suspicion, but the officer has to support it with facts – not just a hunch. It would count as reasonable suspicion, for example, when an officer receives a tip about a driver or other information that a vehicle or person may have committed a crime. This is enough evidence to warrant pulling a vehicle over and making an arrest.
When Can’t a Police Officer Pull You Over?
A police officer can’t pull you over if he or she doesn’t have any probable cause or hard facts to do so. If there’s no reason for the officer to believe you’ve done something wrong, he or she has no grounds on which to make the arrest. You must have actually been speeding, failed to use a turn signal, or broken another law. Otherwise, the police have pulled you over without probable cause. An officer cannot pull someone over based solely on race, gender, or a vague general profile of a criminal suspect.
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects citizens’ rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. If a police officer pulls you over for no reason and ends up charging you with DWI, you can fight the charges – even if you were intoxicated at the time. However, these cases can be difficult to win, as it’s the suspect’s word against the officer’s. If you can prove that the officer didn’t have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to pull you over, the court may dismiss the case against you.
Complexities Within Texas Law
It may seem that when an officer can and can’t pull you over for DWI is clear. However, the law gives police officers pretty flexible discretion – especially for a DWI. Law enforcement can follow someone believed to be driving while intoxicated, even based purely on a hunch, until the driver does something wrong.
The circumstances of your particular situation may alter your case. Always speak to a Houston DWI attorney if you’ve been arrested for a DWI in Texas. If you have evidence that the officer didn’t have a reasonable suspicion or probable cause to make the arrest, then the state may not have a case against you.