Is pretext for a traffic stop questionable?

On Behalf of | Apr 27, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Defense

“Pretext” is a term that comes up when addressing the legality of traffic stops. In Texas, the police might have a pretext to stop a vehicle for a seemingly minor violation. After pulling a car over, the routine traffic stop may escalate. A driver may wonder about what he or she did to deserve a traffic ticket and then end up arrested for a crime. In some instances, serious questions may arise about the pretext and probable cause.

Pretext sets the stage for criminal charges

A police officer could use any number of minor traffic violations as a pretext to stop a vehicle. The failure to use a turn signal when changing lanes remains a moving violation even when a driver makes a lane change on an empty road. Driving too slow, even when not causing traffic delays, creates the chance for a ticket.

The officer may use the traffic stop as a pretext to search for drugs or weapons, run a stolen vehicle or warrant check, and more. Whether the officer finds discovers anything illegal is another matter. It’s possible that the police may abuse pretext-oriented traffic stops. Without legislative action setting rules, then pretext abuse might continue.

The dangers of pretext abuse

A police officer may use pretext to single out or target a particular driver for a traffic stop. For example, African-American motorists may find themselves stopped for no apparent reason. As for searches, questions may arise about whether probable cause truly existed. If not, then anything discovered during the investigation might be inadmissible in a criminal case.

A criminal defense attorney may be able to challenge the legality of a traffic stop and subsequent search. The attorney may discuss other matters related to the accused’s defense to help protect their rights.