When Can The Police “Extend” A Traffic Stop Based On Suspicion Of Drunk Driving?
A drunk driving arrest usually starts as a “routine” traffic stop. When a police officer observes a possible violation of Texas traffic laws, they are permitted to initiate a stop for the purpose of investigating that violation. The stop itself should not last longer than is necessary to accomplish that goal–i.e., to check the driver’s license, issue the citation, et cetera. However, if during the stop, the officer develops “reasonable suspicion” that the driver is intoxicated, they may extend the stop to investigate that possibility as well. Absent such reasonable suspicion, however, any attempt to prolong an otherwise lawful traffic stop is a violation of the driver’s constitutional rights.
Texas Appeals Court Throws Out DWI Arrest Based on Nothing More Than Officer’s “Hunch”
For example, in a recent Texas DWI case, State v. Rodriguez, a police officer observed the defendant was speeding. The officer decided to initiate a traffic stop. After making contact with the defendant, the officer said she appeared “lethargic” and had “kind of a glazed look” in her eyes. The officer said he also “smelled a faint odor of intoxicants,” although he could not determine its origin.
The defendant voluntarily told the officer that she was returning home from a sorority event and was speeding because she needed to get to a restroom. The officer asked the defendant how many drinks she had, to which she replied “none.” The officer, not believing this answer, decided to extend the traffic stop into a DWI investigation. The officer ultimately placed the defendant under arrest and charged her with DWI under Texas law.
In court, the defendant challenged the lawfulness of the officer’s actions, arguing he lacked “reasonable suspicion” of DWI. Both the trial judge, and later the appellate court, agreed. As the appellate court explained, the defense did not dispute the lawfulness of the original traffic stop–the defendant was speeding. The question was whether the officer had “specific, articulable facts” from which he could rationally infer the defendant was drunk driving.
In this case, the appellate court said the officer did not have such facts. To the contrary, aside from the alleged “glazed look” and lethargic appearance, there was nothing to indicate intoxication. The trial judge considered a video recording of the encounter taken from the officer’s dashboard camera. This recording showed the defendant’s speech “was clear and not slurred.” She was “polite” but “nervous” when speaking to the officer. Indeed, she cooperated fully with the officer’s request for information. More to the point, she “consistently denied drinking.”
Under these circumstances, the courts found that the officer “unlawfully prolonged the legitimate traffic stop” of the defendant based on a “mere hunch.”
Speak with a Texas DWI Defense Attorney Today
When stopped by the police on a traffic violation, you should always be polite and provide your license and registration upon request. But you do not need to volunteer any other information, such as where you have been or where you are going. And if you are arrested and charged with DWI, you should say nothing until you have spoken with a qualified Pearland DUI/DWI lawyer. Contact Keith B. French Law, PLLC, if you need legal representation today.