Most DWI arrests begin with a police officer observing a possible traffic violation and pulling the driver over to give them a ticket. If the officer lacked “reasonable suspicion” to initiate the traffic stop, any subsequent evidence of DWI that may be discovered is inadmissible in court. The same holds true if any subsequent arrest is illegal.
The Texas Second District Court of Appeals recently addressed the question of whether a traffic stop leading to a DWI is legal if the arresting officer acted outside of his normal jurisdiction. This case, Martinez v. State, began when a Fort Worth police officer observed a vehicle, driven by the defendant, that he believed to be speeding.
The officer sped up himself to catch up with the defendant. During this pursuit, both vehicles crossed over the Fort Worth city line into Westworth Village, another city in Tarrant County. The officer ultimately initiated the traffic stop in Wentworth Village. In the course of the stop, the officer discovered evidence of the defendant’s possible intoxication and placed him under arrest.
Before the trial court, the defendant moved to suppress any evidence gathered during the traffic stop. The judge denied the motion and proceeded to find the defendant guilty of DWI. The court sentenced the defendant to 12 months probation.
On appeal, the defendant argued the officer’s arrest was illegal since he was outside of Fort Worth when he initiated the traffic stop. The Second District rejected this argument and affirmed the defendant’s conviction. Although Texas law does state a police officer may only make arrests “while in his jurisdiction,” there is a statutory exception for traffic violations, provided (1) the officer personally observed the violation and (2) the violation occurred in the county or municipality that employs the officer.
In this case, the officer first observed the defendant speeding while he was still in Fort Worth, which was the officer’s jurisdiction. More to the point, both Fort Worth and Westworth Village are in Tarrant County. Since the officer was employed within Tarrant County, he was therefore allowed to initiate a traffic stop or make an arrest based on an alleged DWI that he personally witnessed.
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Another fact worth mentioning from this case is that after the Fort Worth police officer initiated the traffic stop, the defendant voluntarily admitted he had drunk “three or four beers” that evening. The jury actually heard this admission, as the officer wore a body camera that recorded his conversation with the defendant.
Let this serve as a reminder: Anything you say to a police officer, even when you are not under arrest, can and will be used against you in court. That is why you should always refuse to answer questions–especially regarding whether or not you have been drinking–and invoke your right to counsel if arrested. And if you need immediate legal advice or assistance, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston or League City today.