Posted on 4/8/19

The Dallas police pull over drivers in routine traffic stops all day long. Sometimes a routine stop turns into an arrest when an officer has probable cause to believe an individual has committed a crime. Sometimes these interactions are by the book, but sometimes a police officer’s motives or actions during a routine stop can be questionable. Especially in cases of arrests for drug possession that result from these routine stops, criminal defendants can be treated unfairly or arrested unlawfully. If you have been pulled over for a routine traffic violation, but were subsequently arrested for a much more serious offense, reach out to a criminal defense lawyer right away to ensure your rights are protected.

Reasonable Suspicion

In 2014, the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals stated, in the case of Guerra v. State, that a police officer may initiate a traffic stop if the officer has “reasonable suspicion” that a crime occurred or will occur. Case law in Texas courts have termed “reasonable suspicion” as a suspicion that a crime may have occurred; it is not necessary that the officer has knowledge of an actual violation.

Case law has further explained that there is no requirement of “probable cause” to commit a crime for reasonable suspicion to be present; instead, it is sufficient that something of a criminal nature is in progress.

As such, a police officer’s standard of reasonable suspicion is pretty low, making it lawful for an officer to perform an arrest in most cases. The standard is whether it is reasonable for the officer at the moment of the arrest to make a seizure.

Note, however, that case law also limits the amount of time a police officer has to make a routine stop. Even if the officer has legitimate reasonable suspicion to make the stop or arrest, the stop can last no longer than is reasonable to effectuate the purpose of the stop. For example, if the police stop someone on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, then once it is determined that the person is not intoxicated, the police have no right to hold that individual. Police may generally perform a traffic stop, under reasonable suspicion and then request a driver’s license, insurance, and registration. After that, the officer would likely look for outstanding warrants against the individual. More than that may be considered an illegal search and seizure.

Case law also states that an officer may request to perform a search of the vehicle. If the person refuses such a request, then the officer should let the person go. After this time, the officer’s actions may be considered an illegal search.

Illegal Search and Seizure

If the police detain an individual longer than is legally permissible, they violated that person’s Constitutional rights. At this point, if the police find evidence that may incriminate the individual, e.g. drug paraphernalia in the car, the defendant would have the right to suppress that evidence in a court of law. To accomplish this, the defendant would bring a motion to suppress and a judge would schedule a hearing to discuss this issue. If the judge finds that the police violated the person’s Constitutional rights, evidence of the drug possession would be inadmissible in court.

Faced with a crime related to a traffic stop? You have rights. Contact the criminal defense firm of Christopher Abel.

(image courtesy of Matt Popovich)

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