Many criminal cases begin with a traffic stop. How they evolve into criminal cases often has to do with the decisions made by the driver and other occupants in the vehicle. Of course, the police officer’s decisions also play a major role. However, do not underestimate the power you have.
Whether or not a traffic stop evolves into a criminal case begins before you hit the road. Use common sense: do not drive around with narcotics or marijuana in your car. In Texas possession of marijuana and other narcotics and drug paraphernalia is illegal. And, marijuana has a very strong odor, which cops and their dogs are trained to recognize. This means that if you are pulled over for a traffic violation and have marijuana in your car, you are placing yourself and passengers at risk for arrest.
Of course, the best practice is to follow all traffic laws and regularly inspect your car’s equipment, such as headlights and turn signals. Doing so will greatly reduce the likelihood of contact with police. But, keep in mind that a police officer only needs “reasonable suspicion,” a very low burden of proof, to initiate a traffic stop. In other words, if an officer can articulate reasonable suspicion that you violated a traffic law, but in fact you did not, then a judge may nevertheless decide the traffic stop was legal. In sum, an officer doesn’t need much evidence of a violation to stop you.
If a police officer does pull you over, there are some rules you should abide by to drastically increase your chances of leaving without handcuffs. First, pull over as soon as possible in a safe location. Second, locate your driver’s license and insurance and then keep your hands visible, like on the steering wheel. When the officer approaches your vehicle, he or she will ask for your driver’s license and insurance. Provide these documents and always be respectful, no matter what your personal feelings are of police.
Remember that your interaction is most likely being recorded with a body camera or dash cam. Your chances of avoiding arrest, and of beating your case if you are arrested, increase if you maintain an orderly, respectful attitude during the interaction.
If the officer asks for consent to search, respectfully say no. Never, ever provide consent to search. Sometimes an officer will say something like, “Do you mind if I have a look around?” to disguise the fact he is asking for consent to search. Again, never give the officer permission to search or “look around” your car even if he threatens to get a search warrant. This is your right, so be confident when you say no and do not waver.
If an officer decides to request a canine that can detect narcotics, then you may be waiting on the side of the road for a while. The wait time may exceed what is appropriate under the law, but you should not litigate this issue with the officer. If the officer does find something after he detained you for an excessive amount of time, then your attorney can present legal arguments on your behalf in court.
If you do not give consent to search, the officer needs either probable cause or a search warrant to search your car. Normally, searches done on cars are based on probable cause or consent, not search warrants. What amounts to probable cause? There are many examples, but common bases for probable cause include: odor of marijuana, detection by narcotics canine, and paraphernalia in plain view. Again, do not argue with the officer. If the search results in your arrest, your attorney can present arguments on your behalf in court.
If you or someone you know was arrested following a traffic stop, contact The Hardy Law Group, PLLC today to schedule a complimentary and confidential consultation.