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The issue of civil rights is continuing to prove as an area needing awareness and understanding in our country.

With the recent alarming reports of police shootings, it is evident that people need to know their rights, and we at Charles W. Nichols Law firm aim to educate you.

A former Dallas Police Officer with over 30 years experience (who wishes to remain anonymous) contributed by shedding light on the officer’s perspective during various traffic stop circumstances.

This blog will educate you on how to navigate interactions with law enforcement, specifically, in your car.

The Traffic Stop

1.) The police cannot stop you without “probable cause”, or reason to believe a law is being broken.

Be careful because a pretext for a “fishing expedition” may result from having a burned out head or tail lamp, expired registration or no license plate on the front of your vehicle in a “conspicuous place.”

The police define probable cause as ” The officer has reasonable suspicion that an offense is being committed or about to be committed.”

It’s not illegal to drink non-alcoholic beverages while driving; however, if you are swerving and the beverage is concealed in a paper bag then the officer would have reasonable suspicion to believe the law is being broken.

2.) You don’t have to pull over until you can do so with safety.

The sooner is better when being flagged down by an officer, but don’t do it until you can guarantee your safety and the officer’s safety (law enforcement appreciates that).

You should pull over as soon as possible, but some advocate to never pull over in a dark or secluded area because there are people impersonating a police officer that can cause you harm.

If the patrol car is properly marked and has all the bells and whistles, it is likely to be the real deal.

When in doubt, you have the right to have the officer identify himself and his agency and his badge number.

Some smart drivers will navigate to the closest police station to stop.

3.) You don’t have to step out of the car unless you’re being arrested.

Most people don’t know this, but you don’t technically have to comply with this request.

This makes the police more comfortable usually, but you don’t actually have to step out of the vehicle unless you’re actually being arrested.

For instance, if the officer is worried you may have a concealed weapon (say your hand is on something out of view) then the officer may ask you to step out of the car.

Some people advocate that you crack your window and then stop the car and take the keys out of the ignition and raise your hands where the police can see them.

Law enforcement is generally more worried about you at night.

Refusal may intensify the situation, but you don’t technically have to get out.

However, if the officer sees that there is a warrant for your arrest, they will arrest you.

Car Searches

5.) Car searches only can happen in the seven following circumstances:

     1.) You consent. If you give the officer permission to search then they are allowed to by law.

     2.) If substances (open or unboxed alcohol, drugs, or paraphernalia) are in plain sight.

     3.) Through “exigent circumstances”. The officer before defined these as, “circumstances where the officer believes evidence is about to be destroyed”

For instance, if someone were to visibly attempt to ingest drugs in an attempt to dispose of them or if they threw the drugs or alcohol containers out of the window, the officer would have reason to stop you and investigate for probable cause to arrest.

     4.) If there is probable cause to suspect criminal activity.

For example, the driver or a passenger is extremely nervous or shows signs of intoxication or drug use or he sees drug paraphernalia or smells drugs, e.g. marijuana.

     5.) If an officer arrests you on probable cause suspicions then he or she can search your vehicle.

This is approved of ostensibly for a search of the area within your reach for something such as a weapon to protect the officer, or to inventory the contents of your car so you cannot say that the police “stole” something from your car.

Some departments have questionable policies and procedures, where prisoners undergo a body cavity search without a search warrant if the officers have reasonable suspicion for probable cause for having drugs in your possession.

These policies can be abused. Under our law, you have the right to file suit for a civil rights violation.

Always consult an attorney with experience in criminal and civil rights law.

 6.) You can be arrested when an officer sees the commission of any offense. See Tex. Code Crim. Pro. 14.01(b).

Usually, there is not an arrest for a Class C misdemeanor, which is a case that is punishable by fine only, but aggressive agencies can make an arrest, unless the charge is speeding, and you sign the citation.

Refusal to sign for any citation can result in arrest.

Always sign for your ticket, you are not pleading guilty, just agreeing to appear when your case is called for arraignment.

7.) You can be arrested when officers know or find that there is a warrant out for your arrest.

Make sure all your tickets and/or arrests are disposed of.  If you forget to pay a parking ticket or fail to pay a Texas traffic surcharge, you could find a warrant for your arrest is pending when you get stopped.

In Summary

Know your rights in traffic stops. This is crucial to assure you are treated within the guidelines of the law.

If your rights are violated at any time during the interaction then you should let the officer know immediately.

When you travel, have plans for you or a passenger to be ready to record the conduct of the officer during a stop.

And as the last bit of advice from the officer, “ALWAYS COMPLY.”

You can report police misconduct tomorrow.

Take care of what is happening to you in your car today.

Even if your rights are violated, you should always try to comply with an officers’ instructions.

Situations are blown out of proportion by people who don’t know their rights or police who don’t do their job.

Keep in mind that the officer may be having one of those “bad days”.

Keep this knowledge in mind when interacting with law enforcement.  Know your rights, comply, and help the situation move along.

The lawyers say you can beat the “rap” (the crime you are charged with) but not the ride (the arrest and the trip to jail.)