Many drivers who are pulled over by police in Texas or elsewhere are unaware of their rights. This can lead to dangerous confrontations with police that result in arrests and worse. It’s important to know your rights during a Texas police traffic stop.
Although thousands of traffic stops take place without incident every day in Texas, the tragedy of Sandra Bland illustrates how things can go wrong quickly.
Bland, an African American woman, was pulled over by a state trooper in Texas for a minor traffic violation in 2015. The situation spiraled into an argument and Bland was arrested and put in a cell. She later took her own life.
In the aftermath of the Bland case, the Texas Education Authority created a video and materials for school districts highlighting tips for young drivers who are pulled over by the police.
Your rights during a traffic stop include the following:
1. Police Need Probable Cause to Pull You Over
Police cannot simply stop you for no reason. Police need probable cause to pull you over in Texas. The officer must have a reasonable suspicion that the driver has committed a crime. Of course, this can be a minor infraction like having a light out or failing to signal. If you were swerving across the road the officer may have probable cause to believe you were driving drunk. Make sure a police officer tells you why he or she pulled you over.
2. Police Need a Reason to Search Your Car
Police officers cannot search your vehicle with no reason or without a warrant. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects you from unreasonable searches. Police must have probable cause. This means they must have some evidence to believe you’re involved in criminal activity.
It’s not enough for a police officer to have a hunch you were involved in criminal activity. The officer must observe something real. The smell of drugs, stolen goods in plain sight, or an open bottle of alcohol could justify a search.
3. Police Can Ask You to Get out of Your Car
Most police stops involve the motorist remaining in the car. However, if police ask you to get out of your car you are required to comply by law. That does not mean the officer has a right to search you. The officer needs a warrant or probable cause to search you.
4. You Do Not have to Comply with Field Sobriety Tests
Police may ask drivers, who they suspect of being drunk, to perform field sobriety tests. You do not have to comply. These tests are often inaccurate and it’s seldom in the interest of the driver to take them.
5. You Do Not Have to take BAC Tests
You have the right to refuse Breathalyzer or blood tests for drunk driving. You will have to sign a statement saying you understand the consequences of refusing a BAC test. Evidence of the refusal may be used in court to help establish your guilt. Your license will be automatically suspended under Texas’ “implied consent” law. The police may be able to force people involved in fatal accidents, wrecks that cause serious injuries, or people with previous DWI or DUI convictions to take a test.
6. You Cannot be Arrested for Arguing
A police officer cannot arrest you for arguing during a traffic stop. However, drivers should be polite and not oppositional. Police officers may charge you with disorderly conduct or assault if they believe your behavior is threatening.
7. You Can Record a Police Officer Without Permission
Most people now have video cameras on their cellphones. New technology has added another dimension to traffic stops. In some high profile cases, the shootings of African Americans by police officers were recorded on social media, fueling the Black Lives Matter movement. Recently, new evidence in the Sandra Bland case revealed Bland took a video of her police stop. Police do not have the power to stop you from making a voice recording or taking a video. However, avoid doing it in a threatening manner and don’t put a device in the officer’s face. You should inform the officer of what you are doing so as a device is not mistaken for a firearm.
8. You Must Show Weapons Permits
Drivers should show officers any handgun licenses they possess and tell officers where they may be carrying guns in their car.
9. You Have the Right to Remain Silent
Although a police officer has the right to request your driving license, insurance documents, and proof of registration, you do not have to answer further questions. Answering questions such as whether you drank alcohol or if you were texting at the wheel can incriminate you. Politely decline to answer.
Police traffic stops can be stressful. It’s important to know your rights and not to do or say anything that can harm a future case or escalate the situation. If you have been arrested after a traffic stop, please contact our experienced Dallas criminal defense lawyers today.