Dealing With Traffic Violations Arising From Improper Equipment

December 8th, 2017 by Tad Nelson in DWI, Traffic Offenses

Many traffic violations in the Houston area are the result of improper equipment rather than reckless driving. A police officer has the right to stop and ticket you if your car does not comply with all requirements of the Texas Transportation Code. And while you may dismiss a “broken taillight” or similar infraction as no big deal, keep in mind that any interaction with the police during a traffic stop may lead to more serious consequences later.

Dispute Over Which Light Illuminated License Plate Leads to DWI Conviction

For example, there was a recent case here in Texas where a police officer initiated a traffic stop based on the fact a light on the defendant’s car was basically pointing the wrong way. The traffic stop was something of a pretext–the officer already suspected the defendant of consuming alcohol and possibly initiating a domestic disturbance–but the traffic violation was what gave him the opening to initiate a formal stop and subsequently arrest the defendant for DWI.

So what exactly was the traffic violation? According to the officer’s testimony at trial, he was running a check on the defendant’s license plate when he noticed the vehicle was emitting “white light directly to the rear, facing rearward.” Under Section 547.322 of the Texas Transportation Code, most vehicles are required to carry at least two functioning taillamps mounted on the rear side. At least one lamp must be “constructed and mounted to emit a white light” that not only “illuminates the rear license plate” but also “makes the plate clearly legible at a distance of 50 feet from the rear.” But here, according to the officer, the white light projected light away from the car and did not illuminate the license plate.

In response, the defendant pointed to video footage of the stop recorded by the officer’s dashboard camera. The defendant said this video clearly demonstrated his rear license plate was, in fact, illuminated by white light, contradicting the officer’s testimony. But the judge rejected that explanation, instead crediting the testimony of the officer, who said it was the forward lights from the police car–not the defendant’s tail lamp–that actually made the license plate visible in the video.

After the court rejected the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence gathered during the traffic stop, he pleaded guilty to drunk driving. He was allowed to appeal the judge’s ruling, but the Court of Appeals found the trial judge committed no error. The judge was “free to choose to believe or disbelieve all or any part of a witness’s testimony,” including accepting the officer’s explanation of the license plate’s illumination over that offered by the defendant.

Get Help Fighting a Traffic Ticket

Traffic violation cases often turn on specific testimony from the parties involved. While judges are often more inclined to believe police officers, that does not mean you should back down if you think you were in the right. A qualified Houston traffic violations attorney can help you contest a simple ticket or deal with more serious charges that arise from a traffic stop. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, League City, and Galveston if you need to speak with a lawyer today.

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