Police officers can't just stop you for suspicion of DWI without a reason. In fact, the police must have what is known as “reasonable suspicion” to stop a vehicle. Traffic stops that are made without reasonable suspicion violate your Constitutional rights. When your rights are violated, the state cannot be permitted to enjoy the benefits of its violations. You have the right to challenge the criminal DWI case against you if you were the victim of an illegal traffic stop. If police lacked reasonable suspicion, your arrest and/or criminal charges can be dismissed.
Doug Murphy is a Board Certified DWI defense attorney located in Houston, Texas, but representing clients throughout the region. If you have been arrested for DWI, he will review the facts of the case and determine if a Constitutional violation has likely occurred and then argue for the exclusion of evidence flowing from that violation. Contact Doug Murphy today for a free initial consultation.
What is Reasonable Suspicion?
You've probably heard of probable cause. This is a standard of proof that police officers must satisfy before performing a search, seizing goods or a defendant, or making an arrest. Reasonable suspicion is also a standard of proof used to determine the legality of an officer's actions. This particular standard is used to justify a traffic stop.
Reasonable suspicion exists when an objective person, given the relevant facts and circumstances of a particular situation, would believe that a person is engaged in behavior that is against the law. Police officers must have more than a hunch that you've committed a crime. Officers must be able to articulate specific facts which, when considered in the context of the situation, justified their reasonable belief that a crime had occurred, was occurring, or would occur.
Simply put, reasonable suspicion exists only when police can point to specific reasons why they believed that you were a threat or committed a crime.
No Refusal Weekends and Reasonable Suspicion
Rather than relying on DWI checkpoints to catch drunk drivers in the act, the state of Texas uses No Refusal Weekends. These No Refusal Weekends typically fall on holidays or weekends when drinking and driving tend to be particularly problematic (e.g., Labor Day, Fourth of July, New Year's Eve). If you're stopped by police during a No Refusal Weekend you can actually still refuse to comply with a breath test or blood test. However, there's an accelerated process in place to allow officers to get a warrant to test your blood.
Do officers still have to have reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle during a No Refusal Weekend, or is that requirement relaxed? Police must always have reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle in the state of Texas. Any traffic stops performed during No Refusal Weekends must be based on reasonable suspicion of illegal behavior.
Factors and Circumstances That May Support Reasonable Suspicion
Police can only stop your vehicle if they have reasonable suspicion of unlawful behavior. Reasonable suspicion is based on an objective evaluation of the facts and circumstances of a particular situation. Certain factors are more likely than others to support a finding of reasonable suspicion.
Speeding: Driving even slightly above the posted speed limit is a violation of the law. Speeding would justify a police officer's decision to stop your vehicle. Reasonable suspicion exists on the grounds that the officer witnessed you violating the law.
Failing to Maintain Your Lane: Police may suspect that you are intoxicated if you have difficulty maintaining your lane while driving. Frequent lane changes or repeatedly hitting the striped lines on the pavement could also create reasonable suspicion to warrant a traffic stop. This is the most litigated traffic stop due to its subjectivity and the requirements of the Transportation Code and case law.
Driving Against Traffic: Driving the wrong way down the road would be a huge red flag for police officers. Drivers don't tend to do things like this unless something is very wrong.
Driving Below the Speed Limit: Driving below the speed limit could also support an officer's suspicion that you have broken the law. Going a few miles per hour under the speed limit may not be enough, on its own, to warrant a traffic stop. However, if you are consistently driving 10-15 MPH - or more - under the speed limit, an officer may have enough to stop your vehicle.
Running a Red Light or Stop Sign: Many traffic violations happen at the intersections of two or more roads. Running a red light, rolling through a stop sign, or even making a dangerous turn in an intersection could be enough to warrant a traffic stop.
Narrowly Escaping an Accident: It's possible to get very close to getting into an accident and then narrowly escaping danger. If an officer sees that you were almost involved in an accident they may decide to stop your vehicle. Many accidents are caused by driver negligence or recklessness. The chances of being stopped are much greater if you would have been at fault for the crash.
Braking Frequently: Driving with caution is great. However, using too much caution and braking frequently may send a signal to police officers that something is wrong. Drivers don't typically brake every few feet or stop in the middle of the road for no reason. Officers may believe that you are intoxicated if you demonstrate these behaviors behind the wheel.
Illegal Turns: Hanging an illegal U-Turn, making an unauthorized right turn on red, or even crossing double yellow lines are all violations of the law. Traffic violations create reasonable suspicion officers need to make a traffic stop.
Vehicle Issues: It's also possible to be pulled over even if you follow every traffic law and drive safely. Certain issues with your vehicle could justify a traffic stop in Houston. Vehicles on the road must be safe and comply with local and state regulations. For example, officers have the right to stop you if one of your lights is out or if you have an outdated inspection sticker.
What Happens If Police Don't Have Reasonable Suspicion During a DWI Stop?
In Texas, police officers must have reasonable suspicion to stop a motor vehicle. Traffic stops made in the absence of reasonable suspicion are illegal. When this happens, your arrest and any criminal DWI charges can be invalidated.
The Exclusionary Rule and DWI Evidence
The state cannot be allowed to benefit from violations of your Constitutional rights. The exclusionary rule applies to most evidence that is obtained through illegal state action. Under this rule, any evidence that is obtained as a result of a violation of your rights can be excluded from your criminal DWI case. Your attorney can file a motion to suppress any illegally-obtained evidence.
This includes evidence that was gathered as a direct consequence of your DWI stop and evidence that was later discovered because of the unlawful police activity. Any evidence that is related to unlawful police conduct is known as “fruit of the poisonous tree.” A court has the authority to toss any evidence that it believes was discovered because you were stopped without reasonable suspicion.
Getting Your DWI Charges Dismissed
The state has the burden of proving that you are guilty of DWI by a reasonable doubt. In order to do this, prosecutors will need evidence to support their case. If your DWI stop was not supported by reasonable suspicion, any evidence obtained by the state may be in jeopardy. A court may decide to suppress any evidence that was obtained as a result of the unlawful stop.
When this happens, the state will be unable to use that evidence in its criminal DWI case against you. Without evidence, the state will have a very difficult time satisfying its burden of proof. Prosecutors may decide that there's not enough evidence to warrant criminal charges. A court can also step in an dismiss the charges against you even if the prosecution wants to proceed.
Houston DWI Defense Attorney
Have you been arrested for DWI in Houston? Do you think that you were stopped on suspicion of DWI for no reason at all? The state cannot be allowed to benefit from violations of your rights. Contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. for immediate help with your defense.
Our Houston DWI defense lawyers will carefully review your case and search for any indication that your rights have been violated. We'll aggressively fight the criminal charges against you and petition to have any illegally-obtained evidence excluded from your case. Call us today to schedule a free case assessment with our skilled legal team. We're here to help you when you need it most.