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 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 suspicion that you are in the process of committing a crime or that you may be about to commit a crime. This reasonable suspicion is established based upon actions that a police officer can directly observe.
Some of these signals that a police officer can observe and which can be used to establish probable cause include:
- 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. 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 in order 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 night time, 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.
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 Expertise, National Trial Lawyers, Avvo, and others, and he is Lead Counsel rated.