“Reasonable Suspicion” and Traffic Violations in Texas
October 15th, 2019 by Tad Nelson in Traffic Offenses
Traffic violations are commonly used by Texas law enforcement to justify what would otherwise be an unlawful detention of a motorist. But as with any criminal offense, the officer must have “reasonable suspicion” that a traffic violation did, in fact, occur. That is to say, the officer must be able to articulate specific facts that, together with the “rational inferences from those facts,” would lead them to believe there has been a violation of the Texas Transportation Code.
Court Tosses DWI Case Based on Unconstitutional Traffic Stop
Here is an example of where an officer did not have reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation according to the courts. In State v. Barrs, prosecutors challenged a trial court’s ruling holding a purported traffic stop in a DWI case was illegal. The appeals court affirmed the judge’s decision.
This is what happened. A police sergeant in Crockett, Texas, was on patrol. The sergeant was at the intersection of East Houston Avenue and South 7th Street, heading westbound on Houston. While stopped, the sergeant said he looked to his left and observed the defendant in this case driving his pickup truck through the intersection of Goliad Avenue and South 7th Street, which was one block to the south of the officer’s position.
The sergeant said he believed the defendant ran through the stop sign at the Goliad intersection. Two blocks later, the sergeant said he saw the defendant failed to signal a lane change. At that point, the sergeant initiated a traffic stop, which eventually led to the discovery of evidence that the defendant was driving while intoxicated.
Before the trial court, the defendant moved to suppress the evidence gathered during the traffic stop. He maintained the traffic stop itself was unconstitutional. The trial court agreed, holding that the sergeant actually “initiated” the stop before he actually observed any evidence of a traffic violation.
As noted above, the sergeant claimed he stopped the defendant for failing to signal a lane change. But the roadway in question lacked any “lines or dashes marking two lanes.” Absent any “clearly marked lanes of travel,” the Court of Appeals said the sergeant lacked “reasonable suspicion” to stop the defendant.
Nor could the sergeant rely on his belief that the defendant ran the stop sign before the non-existent lane change violation. The officer’s belief was nothing more than “speculation” based on a “brief sighting” of the defendant’s vehicle one block away. Again, this was not enough to support a finding of “reasonable suspicion.”
Speak with a Houston Traffic Violations Defense Lawyer Today
Police officers make honest mistakes, just like everyone else. The difference is that an officer’s mistake may lead to a traffic ticket or even a more serious criminal conviction. If you find yourself in this position, it is important to work with an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney who can thoroughly review–and challenge–the evidence against you.