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Reasonable Suspicion and Traffic Stops

Reasonable Suspicion and Traffic Stops

For most people, the term reasonable suspicion doesn’t come up on a daily basis. It’s a legal standard used in the Texas criminal justice world. However, every time police are on patrol, they use reasonable suspicion to decided whether or not to pull you over or whether or not to stop and talk to you. Police officers in Travis and Williamson Counties, just like the rest of the state, need reasonable suspicion to stop you. Reasonable suspicion and traffic stops are like peanut butter and jelly. You can’t have one without the other. This can affect your case in a variety of ways. Let me explain how.

What is Reasonable Suspicion in the law?

Reasonable suspicion is the amount of evidence a police officer needs to pull you over or stop and talk to you. This is more than just a “mere hunch” that a crime has been committed or is about to be committed. The police officer must have specific and articulable facts to justify the stop. That means that the office must be able to put into concrete words the reasons why he or she stopped you. Anything less would be illegal.  Think of reasonable suspicion as a mark on a yard stick. How much evidence or how many details would you need to feel comfortable in stopping someone for illegal activity.

How can Reasonable Suspicion affect my case?

Reasonable suspicion can affect your case in a variety of ways. It’s the first step in the contact between you and the police. It’s the reason they stopped you in the first place. If it’s for a DWI charge, more likely not it all started because of a traffic violation. You probably bounced in between the lines, were speeding, ran a red light or a stop sign. Maybe you even clipped a curb. This would be part of the reasonable suspicion evidence that the officer would have to explain to justify the stop. If the reason for the stop is strong, then they officer may question you further and investigate whether or not a crime is in progress. Oddly enough, the Texas Transportation Code is so broadly written that if an officer follows you long enough, you’ll commit a traffic violation. 

In to case of DWI’s, if the stop is a bad stop, for example, then that may very well come out in an ALR Hearing. At that hearing, I would have the chance to request the criminal discovery against you (videos and police reports) question the police officer and ask why he or she stopped you to begin with. If the officer says you were stopped because you had a brake light out, but the brake light is not out in the video, we may have a strong case for challenging the legality of the stop to begin with. The bottom line is, if the officer shouldn’t have stopped you to begin with, then that may destroy the basis of the rest of the case against you. If criminal charges are filed later on, this can be used as leverage for plea bargaining in your criminal case.

Summary

Reasonable suspicion is an important part of reviewing Texas criminal cases. It’s the first step in the contact between you and the police. Police need specific facts that they can explain as the reasons for stopping you. A hunch alone won’t do. Just a hunch is an illegal stop. Illegal stops by police may actually help the outcome of your case. If you’d like to talk about this more, or want a case evaluation, give me a call or fill out the form to the right. I’d be glad to talk to you about the strengths and weaknesses of your case.

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