4320 W. Vickery Blvd, Suite A, Fort Worth, TX 76107
817-332-7703 Schedule an Appointment With Us Online »
Historical Fort Worth courthouse

Understanding Your Rights During a Police Stop

Do you know all your constitutional rights at a police stop?

Police stops are uncertain times for both citizens and officers. Many detainees have never been pulled over before, or at least have not been pulled over in many years. So, they are unsure of their rights. On the other side, the police officer turnover rate is at an all-time high. Therefore, many officers are new and uncertain of their responsibilities. Compounding the confusion, police stops have a danger element as well, for both citizens and officers.

Government and union lawyers protect the legal interests of police officers if something bad happens at a stop. A Fort Worth criminal defense lawyer protects the legal interests of citizens if something bad happens at a stop. That “something bad” usually is not a shooting or other such incident. However, rights violations are quite common. Lawyers must stand up for people in these situations, or these rights violations will get worse.

First Amendment Rights

Body cameras are now standard equipment for most police officers in North Texas. These cameras clearly show jurors what happened during a stop, from the officer’s perspective. For a citizen, a cell phone camera is basically a body camera.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which includes Texas, recently held that citizens have a fundamental right to film police activities as officers carry out their official duties. This ruling is significant because the First Amendment (free speech, free press, free expression, etc.) only applies to fundamental rights. This ruling is temporary, as the Supreme Court has yet to weigh in on this question. However, for now, you can film the police on your cell phone camera in Texas.

This right, like all other fundamental rights, is subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions. Usually, if officers tell people to stay in their cars or stay behind the line, they must do so. However, under current law, officers cannot tell people to turn off their cameras in Texas.

Fourth Amendment Rights

This provision prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. These activities are unreasonable, unless a judge issued a valid warrant, or a search warrant exception applied. Owner consent is probably the most common search warrant exception.

Legally, consent is a voluntary and affirmative act. Roadside consent is often involuntary. Many people feel like they cannot say “no” in these situations. That’s not true, according to the Fourth Amendment. Other times, officers bully people into consenting, with a threat like “If you don’t agree to a search, I’ll get a warrant.” Such treats are empty threats. If the officer had probable cause to obtain a warrant, the officer probably wouldn’t have asked for consent.

Fifth Amendment Rights

The right to remain silent usually kicks in during traffic stops, because that’s where custodial interrogation usually begins.

Custody quite simply means the defendant does not reasonably feel free to leave. Many people do not feel free to leave when they see flashing squad car lights in their rearview mirrors. Once officers address them at the driver’s side window, they do not feel free to leave.

Interrogation, in this context, is not synonymous with asking questions. Evidence of intoxication is a good example. If an officer smells alcohol on a driver’s breath, the driver has just admitted to drinking. Therefore, the Fifth Amendment protects the right to not only refuse to answer questions, but also the right to refuse to roll down a window.

Once again, reasonable restrictions apply. People must comply with basic “step out of the car” law enforcement commands.

Count on a Savvy Tarrant County Criminal Defense Attorney

People have rights at traffic stops. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Fort Worth, contact the Law Office of Kyle Whittaker. Convenient payment plans are available.