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4 Shocking Texas Traffic Stops: Current Texas Law For Arrest After Pulled Over by Police

Here in Dallas, and probably most of Texas, the death of Sandra Bland in a jail cell over in Waller County is a tragedy and a mystery — one that is still being investigated. It’s being reported that the 28-year-old woman from Chicago died by her own hand three days after she was arrested and jailed.

1. Sandra Bland Traffic Stop

The big question for everyone is why Sandra Bland was ever arrested in the first place. The DPS video from the police car dashcam is here if you want to see it (again, probably, it’s been widely circulated).

 

The complete transcript of the exchange between Sandra Bland and the Trooper from the Department of Public Safety (DPS) has been published by Huffington Post. You can read it here.

This post isn’t delving into what happened to Sandra Bland. There are plenty of people doing that on the Web and in the main stream media and in courthouse hallways already.

Instead, let’s consider “traffic stops” in Texas and what the state law is right now for a police officer pulling over someone here in Dallas or Fort Worth or anywhere in Texas. (In legal jargon, when the officer pulls a vehicle over, it’s called a “traffic stop.”)

First, there are videos that show that excessive force by police when they pull someone over isn’t rare at all. Check out these examples from our prior posts:

2. Two Roadside Full Body Cavity Searches of Women in Texas Traffic Stops

Remember the ladies who were stopped by Texas DPS Troopers near Dallas and filmed on the Trooper’s dashcam video as they were given cavity searches (including their genitals) there on the side of the road in a traffic stop? It made the national news back then. Read our post about it here.

Thing is, that wasn’t the only instance where women were given these invasive searches on the roadside. There was ANOTHER dashcam video that revealed of another instance near Houston where the same thing happened. Texas DPS Troopers were involved in that traffic stop, too.

Watch videos of both these traffic stops here.

3. 77 Year Old Grandmother Dragged Out of Car in Texas Traffic Stop

Then there is the story of a 77-year-old grandmother, hurrying home from church because she needed to use the restroom, and gets pulled over by a police officer with the Keene Police Department. (Keene is about 40 miles from Dallas, it’s even closer to Fort Worth).

The officer pulls her over in a traffic stop, informs her that she had been recorded driving at 66 mph in a 55 mph speed limit, or 11 miles over the limit (not that bad if you really, really need to get to that restroom, right?) and when Grandma explains her need to find facilities, the officer DRAGS HER OUT OF THE CAR AND HANDCUFFS HER. That’s right.

Read our post on this one and watch the dashcam video here:

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Texas Traffic Stop Law Is Lacking Right Now

So, what is going on here? Well, there are lots of laws on the books about what law enforcement can and cannot do in a traffic stop. Both federal and state laws are on the books to protect citizens from police officers abusing their power.

Because, let’s face it, when it’s you and a uniform on the side of the road, that uniform has got power over you. He or she has a gun, and a stun gun, and a set of handcuffs. The officer has the training on using physical force and the ability to arrest you and haul you down to jail and take away your freedom (if not more).

1. Federal Law and Texas Traffic Stops

Federal laws and federal court cases are out there that exist to protect your rights when you are pulled over by any member of law enforcement. For more on that, “When The Police Stop You: the Law and Your Need for a Zealous Defense Lawyer.”

2. Texas Law and Texas Traffic Stops

Right now, in Texas, it’s legal for a police officer to arrest someone over a traffic stop. You do almost anything, and I mean ANYTHING, and the police officer has the law behind him or her to arrest you and handcuff you and take you to jail.

This was upheld after a long, protracted legal fight by Austin soccer mom Gail Atwater, who was arrested and jailed here in Texas for driving without wearing her safety belt. Yes: Gail Atwater was arrested after a traffic stop because she wasn’t wearing a seat belt. She got pulled over for not signaling before she changed lanes. When she argued with the officer, she ended up busted for assault.

Atwater took her case all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The High Court ruled in favor of the Lago Vista Police Department. Read the opinion here: Atwater v. Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318, 121 S. Ct. 1536, 149 L. Ed. 2d 549 (2001).

The Texas Legislation That Got Vetoed

Not too long after that U.S. Supreme Court decision, there was a bill that made it through the Texas Legislature and onto the Governor’s desk that would make it illegal in Texas to arrest someone for anything like a Class C Misdemeanor. Then-governor Rick Perry vetoed it. (Hat tip to Grits for Breakfast for reminding us of that one.)

Pulled Over by Police in Texas: What Can You Do?

Well, right now there isn’t any pending legislation on this issue: the Texas Legislature isn’t in session right now. Maybe things will change when they all return to Austin. And while federal laws are on the books, that doesn’t seem to be doing much around here, is it?

So, what to do? This is a question that criminal defense lawyers get so much that we published “Ten Things to Know In Case Your Car is Pulled Over in Texas” on our FAQ page. However, that list is a summary of what Texas law provides for citizens who have been pulled over by law enforcement here — and you should be well aware of the current traffic stop laws.
 
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The reality is that when you are pulled over by a law enforcement officer in Texas, it’s just you and the officer there by the sign of the road. You’re vulnerable here unless you’ve got your criminal defense lawyer right there in the passenger seat.

So, there you are. You don’t know why he’s pulled you over. You don’t know the officer’s threat level (does he have some reason to think that you may be a danger to him?). You don’t know the psychological state of this person who has the ability to take your freedom from you.

The reality is that if you are pulled over, you should make every effort to remain calm and courteous and avoid getting into a conflict with the officer. Yes, you can film the event on your phone, that is your First Amendment right.

Consider your circumstances: will pulling out the phone to video what’s happening escalate the situation?

Texas Law gives that officer the right under the Texas Penal Code to arrest you for a Class B Misdemeanor for what he believes is an act that “interrupts, disrupts, impedes, or otherwise interferes” with his duties. Texas Penal Code 38.15.

If the officer violates your rights, then you can get with your defense attorney and fight back later.

Keep the long-range view of winning the war in court, not the battle there on the side of the road.

Just ask Ashley Dobbs, who was victimized by the DPS Troopers in that shocking traffic stop where the Troopers did a cavity search. She sued. She won.

 

For more information, follow our blog for more videos and discussions of traffic stops and excessive force as well as Michael Lowe’s Case Results.

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