In U.S. law, a pretext is the weak motive used to justify an action that is actually strongly motivated by something else. For example, in wrongful termination cases, a former employee may try to argue that the reason given to terminate him was only a pretext used by a prejudiced employer who disliked him anyway. Proving that the reasons for an action were “pretextual” is very difficult, and when it comes to the conduct of police officers out on the Texas roads, the law doesn’t really care what the officers’ subjective motivation may be for their conducts. Below is an explanation of what this means for you and how you can avoid a pretextual stop.
Since things like drunk driving or the possession of illegal drugs can be difficult to detect, police officers are well-trained to look for any lawful reason to pull you over. Law enforcement probably does not really care too much about something as nit-picky as a burnt out taillight – the officers really just want the chance to look for other signs of driver impairment or illegal activity . U.S. Supreme Court decisions have regularly upheld the ability of the police to stop a vehicle for any legal reason regardless of the officers’ true motivation.
While the police usually cannot search your car without a warrant, the U.S. Supreme Court has said that the Fourth Amendment is not violated by Texas laws which allow an officer to issue an arrest even for fine-only misdemeanors. The Texas Legislature has passed bills that would have limited this practice, but ended up being vetoed by Governor Perry every time. All of this means that an exchange like this is not too impossible:
Law Enforcement Officer: Sir, may I search your car?
Stopped Driver: No, not without a warrant.
Officer: Well, sir, you’re just going to have to wait until our drug dog is done with another stop a few minutes from here.
Driver: I don’t have all day, officer.
Officer: Well, the other thing I can do is to arrest you for not wearing your seatbelt and then search your car after it’s impounded.
Driver: All right, all right! Search the car so I can be on my way.
Of course, if there is nothing that could be used to against you in the car, this isn’t as big of a problem, but you can still avoid the hassle of pretextual stops by taking basic precautions. Here is a list of some things to keep in mind to avoid giving the police an excuse to pull you over:
- Regularly test headlights, taillights, turn lamps and brake lamps and seek repairs if necessary
- Avoid drawing unnecessary attention to yourself with too much swerving, controversial bumper stickers, excessive window tinting or loud music
- Obey basic traffic laws – don’t speed or drive too slowly, come to a complete stop at stop signs, signal any lane changes and make sure all passengers are wearing seatbelts.
If you or someone you know has been accused of DWI or another criminal offense in Texas, contact the defense attorneys at The Kyle Law Firm for a free consultation today./sso49