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Illegal Traffic Stop Fort Worth, TX

By June 13, 2020November 17th, 2023Illegal Stop

It’s not uncommon for people to be stopped by the police. Some of the most common reasons for a stop can be speeding, running red lights and stop signs, or suspicious activity.

It’s important to remember, though, that just because you are stopped by the police doesn’t mean your rights have been forfeited. The police have very strict rules and procedures they are required by law to follow. If they violate any of these rules and regulations, it could completely change the outcome of any criminal charges brought against you. This is especially true in the case of an illegal traffic stop.

Below, we’re going to examine exactly what rights you have when stopped by the police. We’ll look at some common justifications law enforcement has to stop you and what you should do when you find yourself in this situation. Finally, we’ll discuss exactly what you should do if you are arrested and believe your rights have been violated.

What Are Some Common Reasons Texas Police Can Stop You?

There is a key term that applies to traffic stops by police officers: “probable cause.” This term is laid out under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which discusses search and seizure in the United States.

Probable cause is established when a police officer has reasonable and good faith belief that you are in the process of committing a crime or that you may be about to commit a crime. This reasonable belief is established based upon actions that a police officer can directly observe.

In other words, the police officer can not pull you over just because he has a “hunch” that you are doing something illegal. The police officer must specifically articulate in his offense report the facts that he is relying upon to pull you over and investigate.

Some of these specific facts that a police officer can observe and which can be used to establish probable cause include:

  • Speeding
  • Swerving between lanes
  • Expired registration
  • Not wearing a seatbelt
  • Expired inspection sticker
  • Missing or stolen license plate
  • Failure to follow traffic signals (running stop signs or traffic lights)
  • Visible signs of illegal acts (consumption of drugs or alcohol, brandishing of weapons, violence towards another person in the vehicle, etc.)
  • You or your vehicle match the description of a vehicle previously reported to police as being involved in a crime

 

This is by no means a complete list. There are many other reasons for which a police officer can pull you over. The above list merely represents some of the most common reasons that people are pulled over.

If you feel that you have been pulled over for no reason, then you may be the victim of an illegal police stop. If the officer did not articulate specific facts in his report to establish probable cause, your traffic stop could be ruled an illegal traffic stop. An illegal traffic stop can be fought in court. Your criminal defense attorney can file a motion to suppress to bring these matters before the trial judge.

What Happens At A Motion To Suppress Hearing In Texas?

After filing a motion to suppress, your criminal attorney must request a hearing. At the hearing, the police officer will be required to attend and will be sworn in and under oath. At this motion to suppress hearing, your criminal defense lawyer can cross examine the police officer with the evidence found in the police report and the digital media evidence.

If the police officer failed to specifically articulate facts that establish probable cause, your arrest could be thrown out as illegal by the judge. What if the police reports say one thing but the videos clearly show something else?

For example, what if the police officer is claiming he pulled you over for failure to signal a lane change but examination of the patrol dash camera we see that you clearly signaled? Regardless of what the reports say, this video evidence can be presented to the judge and the police officer can be cross examined to be forced to provide an explanation as to how he could justify his traffic stop.

Your police officer can also be required to go through all the evidence that he provided to the prosecutor and answer to each, and every error listed in the report or inconsistency in the video. These cross-examination challenges provide your criminal defense attorney an opportunity to show the judge that the police officer is not a credible witness and should not be relied upon.

What Happens If I Lose My Motion To Suppress Hearing?

If your criminal defense lawyer files a motion to suppress, requests a hearing, cross examines the police officer and does not prevail at the hearing, you may still have an opportunity to have your motion to suppress considered again at your jury trial.

Under Texas law, if the judge does not rule in your favor on a motion to suppress a traffic stop, you can request that a jury instruction be provided to the jury if a “dispute of fact” arises as to legality of the traffic stop.

How does this work? Your criminal defense attorney will have the opportunity to cross examine your police officer and go over the details establishing an illegal traffic stop. If your criminal lawyer was able to create a dispute of fact regarding the legality of the traffic stop during the cross examination, the judge will be required to provide an instruction in the jury charge that will require the State of Texas to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was an illegal traffic stop.

If the jury has a reasonable doubt regarding the legality of the traffic stop, they will be required by law to render a verdict of NOT GUILTY!

For example: You have been pulled over for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI). Your police officer has claimed that he pulled you over for failing to stop at a stop sign. His report indicates that you slowed down and “rolled through” the stop sign without completing the stop. Your criminal defense attorney reviews your video and finds that the video appears to show that you did come to a complete stop, even if only for a moment. Even if your criminal attorney does not prevail at a motion to suppress hearing with the judge, you still can take this issue to a jury trial. At the trial, your criminal lawyer can play this video to the jury, cross examine the police officer and establish reasonable doubt regarding the legality of the traffic stop. If the jury believes there is a reasonable doubt regarding the traffic stop, your entire DWI would be thrown out. Even if your blood alcohol level was .24? Three times the legal limit? Yes! Remember, if the prosecutor can not prove the traffic stop was legal, everything after the traffic stop is inadmissible in a criminal court.

How Can An Illegal Traffic Stop Affect A Felony Charge?

If you were illegally stopped and that stop led to a felony charge, it is critical that your criminal defense attorney review your case as soon as possible. The best criminal defense attorneys will immediately gain access to the police reports and digital media evidence and inform the prosecutor that an evidence packet will be presented to the grand jury.

In Texas, every felony charge must be presented to a grand jury. A grand jury is a panel of citizens that listens to evidence and determines if the criminal case has probable cause and should proceed forward for prosecution. If you are interested in making sure you have the best criminal attorney on your case, make sure you hire an attorney who is willing to present evidence of an illegal arrest to the grand jury.

The grand jury has three options when considering criminal cases: Keep the case as a felony, lower the charge to a lesser misdemeanor charge or no bill the case. A no bill is essentially a dismissal. If your criminal attorney has evidence to show that your traffic stop was illegal, now is the time to get it before the grand jury. If you delay in preparing your criminal defense, you may miss out on the opportunity to dispose of the case early in the criminal process.

You need to understand what your rights are and, more importantly, exactly what to do if you are stopped illegally.

What to Do If You Are Stopped by the Police in Texas?

The most important thing to remember is that if you are pulled over, you should avoid arguing with a police officer and do your best to cooperate. You have rights that you should exercise, but you also want to avoid a resisting arrest charge.

Remember that you have the right to remain silent. This is a constitutional right which means you do not have to answer the questions of law enforcement if you could potentially incriminate yourself. Police officers need probable cause to search your vehicle — you should never be forced to give them that probable cause.

So, what should you do?

As soon as you see police lights flashing in your rearview mirror, you want to begin to slow down and signal that you are pulling over. Try and find a well-lit area to pull over if it is at night, such as under a streetlight. If you are on a highway or freeway, pull over in a safe area where you can avoid traffic.

Once you have come to a complete stop, the first thing you should do is roll down your window. If it is nighttime, turn on the interior light. After these things are done, place your hands on the steering wheel. These actions will demonstrate your willingness to cooperate with police and, in the event, you are arrested, can help to show you were not resisting arrest.

When interacting with the officer, be courteous at all times and show your license, registration, and proof of insurance if asked. Additionally, remember that you do not have to give police the right to search your vehicle just because they ask. However, if the officer openly sees evidence of wrongdoing, such as an open container of alcohol or other contraband, they do not need your permission.

If a police officer does begin to search your car, stay compliant, and do not resist. Only answer basic questions such as your name, address, and birthdate. You are required by law to truthfully answer these questions.

If the police proceed to question you, make it known that you do not wish to speak until you have contacted an attorney. If your rights have been violated by an illegal stop, your attorney can help you get any charges against you thrown out.

The most important thing is that you do not resist the arrest. The time to contest an illegal stop is with an experienced defense lawyer in front of a judge. If you do resist arrest, you run the risk of being brought up on charges even if you were stopped illegally.

For example: you were wrongfully and illegal stopped based upon the police officer having a hunch that you did something wrong. You know you are innocent and did nothing wrong. The police officer comes to your door and is very rude and demanding. He forces you out of the car and grabs you. You begin to raise your voice and tell him you did nothing wrong. He demands you put your hand behind your back. You pull back ever so slightly because you can’t believe what is happening to you. The officer will not force you into a submission hold and arrest you for resisting arrest. What started out as the officer being a jerk, now turns in to a Class A Misdemeanor of Resisting Arrest, punishable by up to one year in the county jail and up to a $4,000 fine.

Don’t Resist Arrest!! Again, stay silent but remember that you have rights. Just because you are pulled over does not mean the police can do whatever they want. If you are properly exercising your rights and not resisting arrest, this gives you the best chances of beating your charges in the event of an illegal search and arrest.

About the Author:

After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. He has been named one of the 3 Best DUI Lawyers in Fort Worth, recognized by ExpertiseNational Trial LawyersAvvo, and others, and he is Lead Counsel rated.