The Police Traffic Stop

Lawful vs. Unlawful Police Traffic Stop

An effective criminal defense attorney must tailor his attack on the State’s case based on the Client’s specific fact pattern. However, most DWI prosecutions follow the same pattern, mainly because the cop is trained to conduct the same investigation each time. The following investigative steps are typical: the cop conducts a police traffic stop on a driver for some traffic violation, identifies that he has been drinking, gives field sobriety tests and then offers a chemical test of some sort to verify the alcohol content in the driver’s body. Each step in the investigation can be successfully attacked.

It is unconstitutional for an officer to stop a vehicle without cause. Even in those instances where the police have set up road check points, they must have a significant police reason and follow a set pattern in order to avoid running afoul of the U.S. Constitution. If the stop is without cause, all the evidence that is accumulated thereafter to prove a person was Driving While Intoxicated will be suppressed.

Typically, an officer will stop because he claims to have witnessed a traffic violation; speeding, for example. Even in the tactical situation where a DWI Task force officer is looking only for a reason to stop, having in mind the ultimate goal of investigating for the crime of Driving While Intoxicated, the stop will be upheld if the driver legitimately violated a traffic law. Intent for the police traffic stop is irrelevant as long as the officer had cause to do so.

Despite the boisterous claims made by so many defense attorneys in their websites, it is extremely rare for an attorney to convince a judge that a stop was without cause, when the only evidence presented at the suppression hearing is that the cop and the client disagree about whether a traffic violation in fact occurred. Usually, there needs to be more, and this is where hiring the right lawyer makes all the difference.

Traffic Stop Defense Strategies

No two DWI defenses are alike. Each one must be tailored to the client’s specific fact situation. However, most DWI prosecutions track the same pattern, mainly because the arresting cop is trained to conduct the same investigation each time. The following investigative steps are typical: the cop stops a driver for some traffic violation, identifies that he has been drinking, gives field sobriety tests and then offers a chemical test of some sort to verify the alcohol content in the driver’s body. Each step in the investigation can be successfully attacked.

Traffic Stops

It is unconstitutional for an officer to conduct a traffic stop without cause. Even in those instances where the police have set up road check points, they must have a significant police reason and follow a set pattern in order to avoid running afoul of the U.S. and Texas Constitutions. If the stop is without cause, all the evidence that is accumulated thereafter to prove a person was Driving While Intoxicated will be suppressed.

Typically, an officer will stop because he claims to have witnessed a traffic violation; speeding, for example. Even in the situation where a DWI Task force officer is looking for a reason to stop, having as his only purpose the investigation of a person for the crime of Driving While Intoxicated, the stop will be upheld if the driver legitimately violated a traffic law. Intent for the stop is irrelevant as long as the officer had cause to do so.

Despite the boisterous claims made by so many defense attorneys, it is extremely rare in practice for a Houston DWI attorney to convince a judge that a stop was without cause, when the only evidence presented at the suppression hearing is that the cop and the client disagree about whether a traffic violation in fact occurred. Usually, there needs to be more, and this is where hiring the right lawyer makes all the difference.

Asking the Right Questions

A good example is our client who was traveling from another state and was pulled over by a DPS trooper for not having a front license plate. The law in Texas states that a driver must display both a front and back license plate. However, how would that apply to a visitor with an out of state registration when his State did not issue a front license plate? The right question got our client’s case dismissed, and it could get your case dismissed as well.

Here’s an example from a case we handled: The officer alleged that he stopped our client because he observed him driving over the center line a couple times. In this case, the officer testified that the traffic violation he observed was failure to maintain a single lane of traffic. There is in fact a requirement in the Texas Transportation Code § 545.060 that requires a driver to stay within his lane. If our client had testified that he did not run over the line, and nothing more was presented, it would have been highly unlikely that the judge would have suppressed.

Fortunately, our client didn’t need to testify to get his case dismissed. A close look at the case law and the wording in the Transportation Code shows that a driver is not expressly prohibited from driving from lane to lane. It mandates that a driver must “drive as nearly as practical entirely within a single lane, and may not move from the lane unless that movement can be made safely”. In this case, we established during cross examination that the lane movement occurred at 3a.m. and that there was very little traffic in the area. We further showed that at the time the officer observed the lane crossings, there was no oncoming traffic and no danger presented to other drivers behind our client. The judge suppressed.

Another good example is a client who was traveling from another State and was pulled over by a DPS trooper for not having a front license plate. The law in Texas states that a driver must display both a front and back license plate. However, how would that apply to a visitor with an out of state registration and his State did not issue a front license plate? The right question got our client’s case dismissed.