DWI and drunk driving arrests often begin with a routine traffic stop. So long as a police Officer has a “reasonable suspicion” that you are violating some motor vehicle-related law, it is legal to stop and detain you. And if the officer discovers evidence of drunk driving in the course of that stop, you could be facing serious criminal charges.
Court Credits Police Officer, Raises Questions About Insurance Database
It is not just traffic violations that can provide reasonable suspicion. Police are also equipped to look for vehicles that may not be properly insured. As you probably know, Texas requires all drivers to carry “proof of financial responsibility,” so they can pay for any damages they might cause in an auto accident. Most of us meet this requirement by purchasing car Insurance.
If an officer has reason to believe that your vehicle is not insured, or you cannot produce proof of insurance upon request, that can be enough to justify a traffic stop–and potentially a DWI arrest. That is precisely what happened to a man from Fort Worth, who was the defendant in a recent DWI case. The defendant was driving his vehicle on the highway. A police officer was parked on the median, taking down license plate numbers and checking them against a database maintained by the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This database contains information about registered motor vehicles and the insurance status.
When the officer checked the defendant’s vehicle, it returned the insurance status as “unconfirmed per the State of Texas.” The officer, who later testified he had used this database thousands of times, said that led him to form a “reasonable suspicion” that the defendant’s car was uninsured. On this basis, the officer initiated a traffic stop, which subsequently led to the defendant’s arrest, trial, and conviction for DWI. Since this was at least the defendant’s third DWI conviction, he was actually found guilty of “intoxicated-felony repetition” DWI and sentenced to 10 years in state prison.
On appeal, the defendant argued the traffic stop was illegal because the “unconfirmed” note returned by the database was “ambiguous.” In fact, the defendant said his vehicle was insured at the time of the stop. However, he did not provide any proof of insurance to the officer at the time of the traffic stop.
Based on these facts, the Texas Second District Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s conviction. The Court specifically cited the officer’s extensive personal experience using the insurance database, noting that in “less than ten percent” of cases he found that an “unconfirmed” notation was later disproved by proof of insurance. While the appeals court it “would be helpful to have objective information about the database” itself, the judges erred on the side of believing the officer had “reasonable suspicion.”
Have You Been Charged With DWI in Houston, Galveston, or League City?
Many DWI cases succeed or fail on the testimony of law enforcement. Police officers generally make very credible witnesses to a judge and jury. Your best chance of avoiding a DWI conviction is to work with a Houston DWI defense attorney who has just as much experience aggressively defending clients in court. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you have been charged with drunk driving and require immediate legal assistance.
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