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Do Police Have to Initiate a Traffic Stop Before Making a DWI Arrest?

Many DWI arrests start out as a traffic stop. This means that a police officer first needs “reasonable suspicion” to initiate the traffic stop. If the stop itself was baseless, then any evidence of drunk driving subsequently obtained during the stop is inadmissible in court.

That said, not all drunk driving arrests require a traffic stop. A recent case from the Texas Second District Court of Appeals, Gleason v. State, illustrates such a scenario. In this case, a woman attending a funeral noticed that someone she knew–the defendant–appeared to be intoxicated. Specifically, she smelled alcohol on his breath.

The local sheriff was also present at the funeral home. He advised one of his deputies to “keep an eye” on the defendant and that he was intoxicated. Sometime later, the defendant got into his truck and left the funeral home. The deputy followed the defendant to the parking lot of a VFW hall.

After the defendant parked his truck, the deputy approached him. The deputy later testified he also smelled alcohol on the defendant’s breath and observed other signs of intoxication. The deputy then administered some field sobriety tests, which the defendant failed. Due to the defendant’s prior drunk driving convictions, he was subsequently charged with felony DWI. The defendant elected to have the judge try the case without a jury. The judge found the defendant guilty and sentenced him to seven years in prison.

On appeal, the defendant argued that all evidence of his intoxication should have been suppressed since the deputy lacked reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop. The Second District rejected that argument. Indeed, the appellate court said that under the circumstances, there was no traffic stop–even though the deputy and the prosecution described it as such. As far as the Second District was concerned, the deputy simply followed the defendant until he chose to park at the DFW. The deputy then approached the parked vehicle. At no point did the deputy order the defendant to pull over.

Since there was no traffic stop, the appellate court said the deputy “did not have reasonable suspicion to approach [the defendant’s] truck.” Once the deputy did approach the truck, he then had “reasonable suspicion” to investigate the defendant for “public intoxication” based on his appearance. This justified the deputy’s decision to administer the sobriety tests, which in turn provided “probable cause” to arrest the defendant for DWI.

Contact Galveston Felony DWI Lawyer Tad Nelson Today

Anytime you are approached by a police officer–even when no formal traffic stop or detention is initiated–you should assume that anything you say will be used against you in court. That is why it is important to never volunteer any information. And if you are charged with drunk driving, your first call should be to an experienced Houston DWI defense attorney. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you need to speak with a criminal defense lawyer right away.