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How Police Use Traffic Stops As A Pretext To Gather Evidence Of Other Possible Crimes

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How Police Use Traffic Stops As A Pretext To Gather Evidence Of Other Possible Crimes


Traffic stops are often a pretext used by police because they suspect the driver may be guilty of a more serious offense, such as drunk driving or possession of a controlled substance. Even when the traffic stop is a pretext, however, there must still be an actual traffic violation. Put another way, if the officer did not actually see–or otherwise have “reasonable suspicion”–that a defendant broke the traffic laws, then any evidence of other crimes obtained as a result of the faulty stop is inadmissible in court.

Body Camera Footage Not Enough to Void Traffic Stop

At the same time, courts tend to give the police broad leeway when it comes to applying the “reasonable suspicion” standard. The burden of proof is on the defendant, not the prosecution, to prove the police acted improperly. And even when there is some evidence that may cast doubt on an officer’s actions, that may not be enough to get evidence thrown out in court.

A recent decision from the Texas First District Court of Appeals, Byrd v. State, provides a case in point. This case began when Houston Police Department officers obtained information about a possible shooting involving purported gang members. More precisely, the police learned that a man was going to “pick up guns to be used in the shooting” from a specific house.

The police conducted a stakeout at the house. There they observed a man–the defendant in this case–drive up to the house, briefly stop, and then drive away. The police then decided to find some pretext to stop the defendant on a traffic violation. One of the officers testified in court that they saw the defendant “turn without signaling,” which prompted the stop. When approached by officers, the defendant said he had marijuana in the car. But a subsequent search of the defendant also revealed that he had PCP.

Prosecutors charged the defendant with possession of the PCP. The defendant agreed to plead guilty and received an eight-year prison sentence. But he reserved his right to appeal the trial court’s refusal to suppress the evidence based on the traffic stop.

Before the appellate court, the defendant said the video footage taken from one of the officer’s body cameras on the day of the traffic stop provided “indisputable” proof that the officers could not have actually observed the defendant failing to make a left turn, which was the basis for the stop. The First District disagreed, however, and affirmed the defendant’s conviction. The Court said the video footage failed to “conclusively establish” that the officer could not have seen the intersection in question while the defendant made his allegedly illegal turn. As such, the appellate court was required to defer to the trial court’s findings of fact on this issue.

Contact Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Keith B. French Today

Many criminal cases hinge on the legality of a police search. An experienced Pearland drug crimes defense lawyer can review your case and help spot any potential defects in the police’s behavior that could improve your chances at trial. Contact the offices of Keith B. French Law, PLLC, today if you need to speak with an attorney right away.


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