No one likes getting pulled over. Just seeing flashing blue lights in your rearview mirror can induce stress in the best of times. This is especially true if you had a few drinks before getting behind the wheel. Law enforcement officers pull over cars every day, but this might be the first time you have ever been stopped. The police know this is usually the case and will leverage your apprehension, fear, or confusion to get you to act against your own best interests.
If they suspect that you are driving while intoxicated, they will apply pressure in an attempt to get you to admit to drinking or consent to a search of your vehicle. But regardless of the circumstances of the traffic stop, you have certain constitutionally protected rights no matter how much pressure law enforcement officers apply. Staying calm and knowing your rights will help you smoothly navigate most interactions with law enforcement. In the instances where Houston Police treat you unfairly or violate your rights, the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. is here to help.
When Can you be Stopped? Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause
First off, it is important to know when the police are even allowed to stop your vehicle. Law enforcement can't simply pull over a car and detain a driver on a whim. To initiate a traffic stop, police must have at least a reasonable suspicion that you have violated a traffic law or other statute. The police are held to a higher standard, known as probable cause when they want to search your car without a warrant or arrest you for DWI.
Reasonable suspicion is a legal standard law enforcement must meet in order to stop a suspected drunken driver. The suspicion must be based on facts, not just a hunch. If a police officer has a reasonable suspicion that you have committed a traffic violation or that you are driving while intoxicated, he or she can legally pull you over and detain you while an investigation ensues. Reasonable suspicion is a lower standard than probable cause and is not enough to make an arrest.
Probable cause is a higher legal standard than reasonable suspicion. It is a suspicion that is supported by enough facts that a reasonable person would probably believe it to be true. A law enforcement officer must have probable cause to believe that you were intoxicated while driving before he or she can arrest you for DWI.
Your DWI defense attorney will review the facts of your arrest to determine if the stop was legal. If you were illegally pulled over and detained, your attorney may be able to have any evidence collected from the traffic stop excluded from your trial. That can include chemical test results as well as physical evidence.
Your Right to Remain Silent – With Some Exceptions
If you've seen a police drama on television in the last 25 years, you are likely familiar with the refrain “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do may be used against you in court.” You enjoy protection from self-incrimination thanks to the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Amendment reads as follows:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
The 5th Amendment prevents a police officer from forcing you to incriminate yourself by threatening arrest. When you are pulled over, you are under no obligation to answer most questions posed by law enforcement. However, an exception in which you can be punished for not answering is when the officer requests your name, driver's license, and current address. Failing to provide or purposefully providing wrong personal information is a criminal offense under Texas law.
Failure to Identify
Under certain circumstances, you can be charged with Failure to Identify if you refuse to provide certain biographical information to law enforcement or provide false information. There are two ways to be charged with failure to identify under the Texas Penal Code:
- If you have been arrested, it is illegal to refuse to provide your name, residence, or date of birth.
- If you have been arrested, detained, or are a witness to a crime, it is illegal to give a false name, residence, or date of birth.
Failure to identify is a misdemeanor; the maximum penalty possible is a year in jail and a maximum fine of $4,000. The penalties for providing false information are more severe than the penalties for simply refusing to identify yourself.
While you are always protected by the 5th Amendment, law enforcement is only required to inform you of your rights in certain situations. When you are placed into custody by a police officer, they are required to read you the following refrain before questioning you:
You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to have an attorney. If you cannot afford one, one will be appointed to you by the court. With these rights in mind, are you still willing to talk with me about the charges against you?
The police are not required to inform you of these rights if you are merely being held during a traffic stop. But once you are under arrest and in custody, the police may not question you without reading you the Miranda warning first. If you are arrested for DWI in Houston, you should decline to speak with police until you have a chance to consult with an attorney.
Your Right to Refuse Field Tests or Chemical Tests
During the course of a DWI investigation, law enforcement may request that you take a field sobriety test or submit a blood, breath, or urine sample for testing. And it's exactly that: a request. Without a warrant, the officer cannot force you to submit to a chemical test. However, refusing to submit to a chemical test can have its own consequences.
Refusing to submit to a chemical test might make sense to you at the time the request is made, but there are consequences for doing so. A refusal will result in a 180-day suspension of your driver's license. Additionally, that suspension is extended to two years if you have previously been convicted of DWI or have refused a chemical test previously. It is also important to note that the prosecutor will point to your refusal to submit to a chemical test as evidence that you were conscious of your guilt.
Blood Draw Warrants
If the police officer that pulls you over has a warrant to take a blood sample from you, they don't need your permission to do so. Texas has what is known as a “mandatory blood draw statute,” which requires an officer to take a chemical sample from a driver if the driver was involved in an accident that involved serious bodily injury or death to another person. The statute also provides for mandatory blood draws if you have a previous felony DWI or a conviction for intoxication assault or intoxication manslaughter.
The 5th Amendment also protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. If the officer lacks probable cause to believe that there is evidence of a crime in your vehicle, it cannot be searched without a warrant. Be aware that a police officer can seize any evidence that is in plain view through your windows. If evidence was seized from your vehicle during a DWI arrest, your defense attorney will be able to guide you on whether or not your rights were violated during the traffic stop.
Discuss Your Case with an Experienced DWI Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with driving while intoxicated in Houston, you will need a DWI defense attorney that knows how to win a DWI case. Doug Murphy is an experienced DWI defense attorney that knows what it takes to be successful in a DWI trial. Doug Murphy has the highest credentials possible. He is one of only two attorneys in the State of Texas to be board certified as an expert in both DWI defense as well as criminal law. The Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. is ready to help you build the strongest case possible. If you would like to discuss the merits of your case with one of Texas' top DWI defense attorneys, contact the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C. today for your free consultation.