Pretextual Stops: When cops lie about why they pulled you over

Pretextual Stops: When cops lie about why they pulled you over. If you or a family member has ever been pulled over by a police officer and they either searched your vehicle or they pulled you out of the car to have you do some standardized field sobriety test, that traffic stop probably didn’t start with the police officer telling you honestly exactly why they pulled you over. So what does that mean? Is that legal for them to do? It’s called a pretextual stop and I’ll explain more on today’s video.

Happy Friday everybody. Hope everybody’s having a great week and gearing up for another good weekend. So like I said, today’s video is on the topic of pretextual stops. So what is a pretextual stop? A pretextual stop is when a police officer uses a reason to pull over a vehicle and it’s not actually the reason why they want to pull that vehicle over. So a good example is if they have a hunch or a suspicion that the driver of the vehicle is drunk or that the vehicle is carrying contraband such as drugs and they want a reason to pull that vehicle over, they can use any legitimate traffic violation as a reason to do that, even if that’s not really what they’re pulling them over for. The Supreme Court case that allows them to do that is Whren v. United States. It came out in 1996. And I’ll put the citation for that case down here so you can go on and look at it.

But basically what it says is the officer’s motives for conducting a traffic stop are really irrelevant to determine whether or not the stop was valid. As long as they had a legitimate legal reason for conducting the stop at that point, the stop is constitutional. There are certain parameters and limitations on that, but what that generally leads to is if an officer wants to pull you over and search your car for drugs, they can use any legitimate legal reason to do that. They can say your headlamp was too dim. They can say the light illuminating your license plate was burnt out. And by law, it has to be there. They can use you failed to signal a turn up to 100 meters in advance of committing a turn. All those things that what we would consider are really ticky-tacky violations can be used as a legitimate reason to stop a vehicle that they actually want to search for drugs.

And if they do that, then a motion to suppress that I would file saying that the stop was unconstitutional because they had no probable cause to believe that there were drugs in the car is completely invalid. We lose that because they had a legitimate legal reason to conduct the stop in the first place. So then the question becomes like on a DWI case, let’s say they pulled you over for speeding and they ultimately ended up arresting you for driving while intoxicated, or they pulled you over for failing to signal a turn and they end up giving you a citation or arresting you for possession of a controlled substance. So what happens to that traffic violation that they cited you with?

Well, a lot of times they don’t end up filing that. They don’t end up giving you a ticket for speeding if they ultimately arrest you for a DWI. They don’t usually give you a ticket for failing to signal a turn if ultimately you get arrested for possession of a controlled substance. But that’s not always the case. Okay? That’s not always the case. And it’s important that you tell your lawyer about what happened, what the circumstances around the stop was because if we’re able to get that bigger case dismissed, let’s say we’re able to get that possession of a controlled substance case dropped or dismissed, or we get you acquitted at trial, but we never knew about that class C ticket for speeding that you got at the same time because they actually gave you a ticket for it this time. Now we run into this issue where we can’t get you an expansion of the arrest because that arrest is connected to a valid offense for which you were convicted. Okay?

So it’s important that you pay attention to when an officer pulls you over, why they say they were pulling you over. Did they say you were speeding? Did they say you were swerving? Did they say you failed to signal a turn? Pay attention to that because that’s important information for your lawyer to know. The other reason it’s important is because maybe that pretextual purpose that they’re using, maybe they didn’t have any valid legal reasoning for believing that. Maybe they said you failed to signal a turn, but when we watched the dash cam footage, all of your turns were signaled well in advance. So if we can defeat that pretextual reason, then everything that happens after that, including the search of your car which turned up those drugs is unconstitutional because it’s considered fruit of the poisonous tree.

So that’s why pretextual stops even though they’re legal, even though they’re constitutional, even though they’re valid, they’re an important aspect of what you need to talk to your defense lawyer about because we need to take a really hard look at those pretextual reasons and make sure that they’re valid and appropriate. Just like every other video, I could go on and on about this. I try to give you guys broad overviews. As a reminder, I’m going to be starting on Thursday nights probably next week, I’ll be starting a weekly Twitch stream where you can swing by, I’ll be playing random video games, but you can ask me any questions that you might have over any legal topic, be it criminal law or whatever. And if it’s a question that I can answer, I’m happy to do it. So it’s going to be every Thursday starting probably about 8:30 at night Central Time, Texas time. I’ll post the link in the comment of this video and I’ll try to post it on all my social media outlets as well.

Feel free to swing by, check that out, ask any questions that you might have, and I’d be happy to kind of have just a back and forth discussion with you in a more relaxed setting. So again, Thursday nights. Twitch handle is The Gamer Lawyer. So look me up, follow me over there, subscribe to notifications of when I go live, then swing by and ask whatever legal questions you have. Hope you had a great week. Hope you are looking forward to some awesome weekend plans. And I will see you all next Friday

Author Bio

James P. Whalen

James P. Whalen is the managing attorney and founder of Whalen Law Office, a Texas criminal defense firm offering personalized legal representation for various federal criminal charges. With a commitment to providing comfort and guidance during challenging times, Mr. Whalen serves as both an attorney and counselor to his clients, helping them navigate their cases while striving to restore normalcy to their lives.

In an inherently unbalanced criminal justice system, Mr. Whalen takes on cases with unwavering dedication. With decades of legal experience, he offers representation across various criminal charges, including white-collar crimes, violent crimes, drug charges, and more. Mr. Whalen’s numerous accolades, including Super Lawyer recognition and board certification in Criminal Appellate Law and Criminal Law, reflect his unwavering commitment to ethical and high-quality legal representation.

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