By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
Texas probably has thousands and thousands of laws on the books.
There is no such thing as a silly or unimportant traffic law and here’s why: police profile people and those laws — silly as they may sound — legitimize otherwise bogus traffic stops. Those stops turn into DWI’s, drug possession charges… and if the citizen isn’t doing anything wrong… the stop turns into general harassment.
To be clear, not all profiling is racial. Sometimes officers will act on “hunches” about how someone looks, what they drive, or how they act. Usually, though, there is simply nothing illegal about looking different, driving a particular car, or having a nervous disposition. The law is clear that these reasons alone aren’t enough for police to detain drivers or passengers on the roads.
In order to stop a car, a police officer needs reasonable suspicion that he has witnessed a traffic offense in his presence. Any offense will do. But here’s the catch — no matter how badly the officer want’s to pull someone over, they can’t do so unless they witness an offense or otherwise have probable cause to pull you over (such as a 911 call). So officers will grasp at any law they can to pull people over that they’ve profiled to investigate for something like marijuana, cocaine, or methamphetamine for example.
The classic law is Texas Transportation Code 502.409(7)(b) which says you can’t have anything on your license plate which covers half or more of the name of the State on the plate… such as a frame your dealer put on the car. While I’m sure there are plenty of legitimate reasons the legislature passed that provision — I can tell you that I’ve seen police pull cars over on multiple occasions due to this law on DWI arrests and drug arrests. And oh, yeah… the cars seem to be older and beaten up, (and even the opposite — overly flashy) and maybe have a driver that looks poor or is a minority. I hate to think how many times people have been pulled over and harassed about drugs or intoxication that weren’t doing anything illegal at all.
Ultimately there is no such thing as a silly traffic law. The police believe that and you should too!
*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For specific legal advice about your own case or situation, you should directly consult an attorney.