Can You Be Searched and Arrested for a Traffic Infraction?

As Americans, we consider the Constitution of the United States to be one of the most precious documents as it was created to protect our rights and freedoms.

Included in the Constitution is the Fourth Amendment, the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

This Amendment comes into play when someone is pulled over or stopped by police, for any reason.

By understanding the Fourth Amendment, individuals can make the right decisions about how to deal with police officers while protecting their safety and personal freedom. While courts are constantly reviewing challenges to Fourth Amendment searches and seizures, there are basic principles that are almost always adhered to.

Criminal charges for traffic violations

Generally speaking, police will not arrest individuals for traffic violations as these are mostly civil violations. However, offenses like reckless driving, fleeing police, and racing are criminal offenses and police may place an individual under arrest if they feel so inclined.

Speeding can rise to the level of reckless driving if the circumstances warrant it. Such circumstances include endangering others or private property. The best way to avoid going to jail for these types of offenses is to obey the law, don’t speed, and always treat officers with respect when pulled over.

When can police search my car in Texas?

First and foremost, a police officer needs probable cause to initiate a traffic stop. This can include a myriad of things like:

  1. Speeding
  2. Running red lights or stop signs
  3. Failing to use turn signals
  4. Failure to yield the right of way
  5. Weaving in and out of traffic lanes
  6. Dead tags

After an officer has probable cause to stop a vehicle, there are generally three different scenarios where he or she can search a driver and vehicle. Scenarios for police vehicle search include:

  • Consent – Police will almost always ask the driver for consent to search the vehicle. There are very few restrictions for private citizens to rescind their right to refuse searches and seizures if they feel so inclined
  • Reasonable Suspicion – Barring consent by the driver, police may ask drivers to step out of their vehicles for the officer’s own safety and perform a pat down to check for weapons. Additionally, police may see or smell drugs, weapons, or any other suspicious items in plain sight that would give them the key component of reasonable suspicion to search a vehicle
  • Warrant – The law generally allows police to detain drivers for a reasonable period of time to seek a warrant to search the vehicle without the driver’s consent or reasonable suspicion on the officer’s part

While police can almost never arrest people for minor traffic violations, these stops often lead to questioning and searches. Whether right or wrong, police can seemingly use this as a tool to investigate people they deem suspicious and try to search a vehicle.

Kingwood, Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you were arrested following a traffic stop, contact our office for a free legal consultation about your case. Andrew J. Williams, a Kingwood Criminal Defense Attorney can investigate the circumstances of your arrest to determine if the stop and search were legal to begin with and possible have your charges dismissed.

Our office serves clients throughout Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, and San Jacinto County.

Andrew Williams, an experienced attorney who can challenge evidence in a DWI case
About the Author: Andrew Williams
I am a criminal defense lawyer with over 20 years experience defending people accused of wrongdoing. I am board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Only ten percent of attorneys in Texas are board certified in their respective field. I practice criminal law exclusively in both state and federal court including appeals of criminal cases.