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What Determines a False Arrest in the State of Texas?

The American justice system is based on the assumption of innocence, until sufficient evidence is provided to confirm guilty of a criminal or illegal activity.  We know that citizens charged with crimes are ‘presumed innocent until proven guilty’ in theory and in legislation, but in practice on a daily basis, that rule of conduct is frequently violated.

You have probably heard of individuals caught in circumstances of ‘guilt by association’ or profiling based on a number of coincidental factors.  Have your friends or family been charged once (or multiple times) in certain misdemeanor or felony violations?

When you keep company with people who have a criminal record, that is never meant to imply that you are also guilty by association, or a suspect in similar crimes.  The image of the icon of ‘Lady Justice’ holding the scales of balance, while blindfolded indicates the first principal of social law; there should be no assumption of guilt or prejudice.   Unfortunately, human nature is prone to assumptions, and that is how many people find themselves in a situation of false arrest.

What kind of evidence do Dallas law enforcement officials need to have, to legitimize your arrest, incarceration in holding, as well as search and seizure? If you are in the company of individuals you know who have a warrant, or who have participated in an illegal act, can you be charged as well?  In this article, we’ll discuss the conditions and terms of false arrest, and your legal rights.

How ‘Probable Cause’ Protects Citizens

In Texas, there is no specific statute that defines ‘probable cause’.  We know that’s hard to understand because law enforcement officers are required to have it, but nowhere is it completely defined.   When probable cause is debated in cases, it is up to the Judge or Magistrate to determine whether the officer(s) met the requirements, on a case by case basis.

Police need a warrant to search your home and vehicle, including a boat or recreational property.  This holds true except in cases where the law enforcement officer can visually identify illegal activity.  This can include drug paraphernalia, illegal recreational or manufactured drugs or manufacturing apparatus or large sums of money (suspect to trafficking and criminal activity).   The evidence that law enforcement witness can also be non-material, such as a child, woman or citizen that appears threatened or injured in your company.

If you are detained on a suspicion, but law enforcement officers in Dallas are unable to confirm or witness any material evidence to support their suspicions, they are required by law to release you from questioning or further detention.

Understanding the Difference Between ‘Reasonable Suspicion’ and ‘Probable Cause’

Dallas law enforcement cannot arrest you, if they fail to meet conditions of probable cause.  They can, however, detain you for questioning if the law enforcement officer(s) have reasonable suspicion, which is a broad guideline that is provided for police, to help them intercept crimes before they occur.

Being pulled over based on a ‘hunch’ is enough reason to meet the requirements for ‘reasonable suspicion’.   Many people can act nervous in the presence of law enforcement (it’s a natural response, particularly if you have had a negative experience).  Just because you are acting nervously, making eye contact, driving slow around law enforcement or any other such activity, is not reason enough for a law enforcement officer to arrest you, but it does allow them to detain you for questioning at the scene.

In order for a police officer to take you into legal custody, he or she must be able to legitimately prove that their ‘hunch’ or reasonable suspicion was accurate.  For instance, if they observe your vehicle driving slowly, and they pull you over and visually see evidence of alcohol in your vehicle.  Or if they smell alcohol or recreational drugs such as marijuana. This sensory evidence is enough for the law enforcement officer to arrest you.

However, if the police officer does not find any corroborating evidence after they question you, including witnessing signs of impairment, or illegal activity as material evidence, they are required to release you on the scene.  They must have this confirmation of illegal activity, in order to take you into legal custody.

Other examples of legitimate probable cause may include (but is not limited to):

  • A crime has occurred, and the reported assailant matches your physical description, or the description of the vehicle you are driving.
  • Expired vehicle license registration or missing license plates on a vehicle.
  • Open alcohol in the vehicle (even if the driver is not driving while impaired and passes roadside sobriety testing).
  • Outstanding warrants for arrest.
  • Unpaid fines for the vehicle, including parking or speeding tickets.
  • Visual evidence that passengers and the driver are not wearing a seat belt.
  • Condition of the vehicle that indicates it is not safe to be on the road. This can be a smashed windshield, broken vehicle lights, or loose metal and debris that could injure other drivers or pedestrians.
  • Speeding, swerving, driving below the speed limit, violating traffic lights (going through a red light) or other erratic or reckless driving activities.
  • Confirmation of an expired or suspended driver’s license.
  • Lack of valid vehicle insurance.
  • Retail or used cargo that appears suspicious and may be related to the theft of personal property.
  • Evidence of human labor or sex trafficking, including minors that are not related to the individual or adult in the vehicle, and have no legitimate purpose for being present in the vehicle.
  • Cigarette smoking in a vehicle where a minor or children are passengers.
  • Lack of use of child safety restraints for children.

In the examples listed above, law enforcement has visual justification to pull your vehicle over for questioning, and search.  Many residents charged with a misdemeanor possession of cannabis for instance, find themselves pulled over for a traffic or driving violation, and then subject to a legal search based on probable cause.

How long can the police officer(s) detain you based on reasonable suspicion? There is no structured time limit that officers have to follow, but they cannot for instance, keep you detained in your vehicle for more than an hour.   If the officer cannot develop the standard of probable cause within a reasonable period of time, he or she must allow the detained citizen to leave.

Let’s assume that the police officer did indicate that you were free to leave, and then continued to follow you.  What should you do then?  That kind of activity (where the officer failed to meet probable cause) is police harassment.  Do not be aggressive to the officer and complicate the situation, but you can record the location and police car license number, should you wish to report the harassment to your local authorities.

Citizens should always feel free to ask a Dallas police officer for their badge number, however if the engagement with the officer has felt threatening, you may feel hesitant to ask them for it.  A more discreet way is to write down the license number should you need to decide to report the incident, or if you feel the officer is following you repeatedly without just cause.

Were You the Victim of a False Arrest in Dallas? 

The arrests that are made public through media headlines are almost never about false arrests, or mistakes that are made to innocent citizens by Dallas law enforcement. Some false arrests can lead to a conviction and are harder to overturn at that point in the legal process.

If you feel you have been the victim of a false arrest and wrongful charge, contact Britt Redden, at Redden Law PLLC right away.   We will help clear your name, and protect your civil rights, building a strong case for your defense.

When the Red and Blue lights are lit, call Britt!

Schedule your free legal consultation.