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Traffic Offenses Archives | Fort Worth Criminal Defense Attorneys and Personal Injury Lawyers

Driving Around Barricade Crime Texas

Is Driving Around a Water Barricade a Criminal Offense?

By | Criminal Defense

Rules of the Road During Flood Season in Texas

Driving Around Barricade Crime TexasFor four years in a row, Texas has experienced significant flooding due to unusual amounts of rainfall. Many people have lost their lives in cars that were swept away in rushing water and many houses have been ruined by flooding across the state.  First responders are on high alert and have been involved in numerous high water rescues.

One story made the news in 2016 when a man was rescued after his car entered a flooded roadway and was filled with water.  Johnson County had to use a drone to fly overhead and locate the man and then emergency personnel executed a rescue.  But what made this story different was what happened to the man after he was rescued.  Johnson County Sheriff’s slapped handcuffs on the man and arrested him for driving around a barricade.

Driving Around a Water Barricade is a Class B Misdemeanor in Texas

Section 472.022 of the Texas Transportation Code governs “OBEYING WARNING SIGNS AND BARRICADES” and provides (in relevant part):

(a) A person commits an offense if the person:
(1) disobeys the instructions, signals, warnings, or markings of a warning sign; or
(2) drives around a barricade.
(d)(2) if a person commits an offense under Subsection (a) where a warning sign or barricade has been placed because water is over any portion of a road, street, or highway, the offense is a Class B misdemeanor.

In Texas, the punishment range for a Class B Misdemeanor is 0-180 days in jail and a fine not to exceed $2,000.

While arrests after a water rescue are not the norm, this certainly provides another reason not to drive around a high water barricade. You would think that the potential danger to life and property would be enough, but sometimes folks need a little more motivation. Johnson County has given us that.

Red Light Camera Ticket Texas

Should I Pay My Red Light Camera Ticket?

By | Traffic Offenses

Red Light Camera Ticket TexasAnytime someone gets a ticket in the mail from a red light camera, the same questions run through their mind. Do I really have to pay this ticket? Is that even me driving? How do they know whether that is me? What happens if I don’t pay this ticket? Why do we even have those cameras anyway? There are a ton of rumors out there and plenty of people ready to tell you that you do or don’t have to pay that ticket, but what is the actual answer? Section 707 of the Texas Transportation Code governs red-light traffic cameras but there are certain ordinances that counties adopt that add onto or affect the Code.

What are the Penalties Associated with Red Light Camera Tickets in Texas?

Red-light camera tickets are considered civil violations and are not considered a conviction.* §707.018. The Code provides that the civil penalty may not exceed $75 and the late payment penalty may not exceed $25. §707.007. If you fail to pay your ticket an arrest warrant will not be issued and it will not be recorded on your driving record. §707.019. Additionally, according to the City of Fort Worth’s Red-Light Camera Safety Program, these violations are not reported to your insurance companies or driver’s license bureau.

Let’s recap. If you fail to pay your red light camera ticket:

  • No conviction
  • No arrest warrant
  • Not on driving record
  • Not reported to insurance
  • Not reported to driver’s license bureau

So far so good. Looks like nothing will happen if you don’t pay the ticket.  But wait, there’s more.

Will Failure to Pay Your Red Light Camera Ticket Affect Your Credit Score?

Section 707.003(h) of the Code provides that information of failure to pay a red light ticket cannot be reported to a credit bureau. According to The Dallas Morning News, even the counties, such as Dallas, that had enacted their red-light camera contract before the Texas law went into place in 2007 can no longer report delinquent violations to credit bureaus. This apparently went into effect June 1st after TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax notified the city of Dallas that they would no longer honor the reports of unpaid tickets.

  • No credit bureau reporting

Could Failure to Pay Your Red Light Camera Ticket Affect Your Ability to Register Your Vehicle?

There had to be a catch with these red light camera tickets. This is where they can get you. If a driver fails to pay their red-light camera penalty after it is sent to collections, that information may be sent to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and a scofflaw hold, or a vehicle registration hold, will be placed on the vehicle’s registration until all unpaid penalties have been paid. §502.010; §707.017. This does not mean that every county decides to go through the trouble of placing scofflaw holds. As for Fort Worth, according to Fort Worth’s violation information website scofflaw holds will be placed if violation fees remain unpaid. To the contrary, www.trashyourticket.com lists Tarrant County as one of the counties that does not place a hold on your registration. (This information is based on either news articles or reports from people with outstanding tickets). Additionally, since Dallas can no longer report to credit bureaus the plan is to start using registration holds to maintain their red-light camera safety program.

The county assessor-collector is responsible for enforcing these holds, however according to his article “The Wright Stuff” in Taxing News,  Tarrant county tax assessor-collector Ron Wright stated that he will “not block vehicle registrations because of unpaid red light camera fines” and even signed a letter to Governor Greg Abbott calling for a ban on the traffic cameras, along with other Texas officials. While this may be a personal decision on Wright’s part, legislature is in the process of making this opinion a law.

Senate Bill 87, sponsored by Texas Senators Bob Hall, Sylvia Garcia, and Donald Huffines, aims to prohibit county assessor-collectors from placing a hold on vehicle registration if the owner is “delinquent in the payment of a civil penalty”, referring to the civil penalty incurred from a red light traffic camera. The bill passed with 30 “yea” votes and one “nay” on March 29, 2017 and it was referred to the House of Representatives Transportation Committee on May 8, 2017. If the bill makes it all the way through, it would render red light camera tickets unenforceable.

  • No hold on your registration.

Bottom line:  If you decide not to pay your red-light camera ticket, it will not affect your credit score, it will not be reported to your insurance company or the driver’s license bureau, you will not be convicted of anything, and a warrant for your arrest will not be issued, but it is remotely possible that it could affect your ability to renew your vehicle’s registration. However, you have the Tarrant County tax assessor-collector’s word that the registration holds will not be enforced. Thus, there isn’t that much that cities can do to you if you fail to pay your ticket. To register your vehicle, even if you have a scofflaw hold, you must register by mail or in person at a local tax collector-assessor office so that it can be overridden.

Ultimately, it’s your choice if you want to take that risk, but now you have all of the facts in order to make that decision.

*Note that all of the information in this article is referring to tickets you receive in the mail after running a red light with a camera, not a ticket received from an officer. It is vitally important to pay attention to traffic signals and stop at red lights for your safety and the safety of others.

Radar Detector Illegal Texas

Are Radar Detectors Illegal to Use in Texas?

By | Traffic Offenses

Radar Detector Illegal TexasLets face it, most of us have received a speeding ticket at some point in our lifetime. As a result, radar detectors have become commonplace for drivers that want to take preventative measures to avoid receiving a ticket. Such preventative measures bring up an important question: are radar detectors illegal? Can I get a ticket for using a radar detector?

In Texas, using a radar detector in a passenger vehicle is legal with certain restrictions.
Under federal law, however, using a radar detector in any commercial vehicle that has a weight of 10,000 pounds or more is strictly prohibited. Commercial drivers are treated as professional drivers, and thus, different laws apply to them. 49 C.F.R. § 392.71(a).

Is it Legal to Mount a Radar Detector on My Windshield?

Although radar detectors are legal in Texas, a person may still be ticketed if they have mounted their radar detector on their windshield, side, or rear window, and that placement obstructs or reduces the operator’s clear view. Whether or not the placement obstructs an operator’s view is up to the officer’s discretion. As such, to avoid the hassle all together, it is best not to mount your radar detector on your windshield.

Radar Detectors on Military Bases

According to the Department of Defense instructions, persons are strictly prohibited from using radar or laser detection devices on military bases. Department of Defense, DoD Instruction 6055.04, DOD TRAFFIC SAFETY PROGRAM pg. 12 (2013).

What is the Difference Between a Radar Detector and a Radar Jammer?

Over the years, many devices have been created to help prevent speeders from being ticketed. The most common device is the radar detector, which is designed to locate radar signals out of the air. However, radar detectors have become less effective due to advances in technology and policing. This has generated the need for LIDAR/RADAR jamming devices. Unlike the traditional radar detector, a jamming device transmits a radio frequency signal that blocks or otherwise interferes with the operation of police LIDAR/RADAR by overloading its receiver with false information. Jamming devices can cause significant damage to police equipment. Moreover, such devices not only prevent police from detecting the speed of the vehicle with the device, but also the vehicles in the surrounding area.

Accordingly, in 2011, Texas passed HB 1116 to prohibit a person from using, attempting to use, installing, operating, or attempting to operate a radar interference device in a motor vehicle operated by the person. A person who commits an offense under this section may be charged with a class C misdemeanor. Tex. Transp. Code § 547.616. A Class C misdemeanor is punishable by a fine not to exceed $500.

Takeaways….

While many people believe radar detectors promote unsafe driving, advocates refute this contention by explaining that radar detectors alert drivers to their speed and remind them to drive the speed limit, and thus, safer.

In conclusion, spending money on a radar detector may help you dodge a speeding ticket and possibly even drive safer, but there are other laws that may be implicated when using such devices.

Stale Traffic Violation Zuniga Drug Case

Does a 15-Minute Delay Render a Traffic Violation Stale? | U.S. v. Zuniga

By | Drug Crimes

How Long Can an Officer Wait to Pull a Vehicle Over After Observing a Traffic Violation?

Stale Traffic Violation Zuniga Drug CaseUnited States v. Zuniga (US Court of Appeals, 5th Cir. 2017)

In this case, a San Antonio police detective, who was working with an informant, suspected that Appellant Zuniga was transporting methamphetamine in his vehicle and followed it. The detective witnessed the driver of the vehicle fail to engage the turn-signal as required. He did not pull the vehicle over at that time, but radioed the traffic violation to other officers. Approximately fifteen minutes later, an officer who had received the radio dispatch but had not witnessed the turn-signal violation, stopped the vehicle. During the stop, the officer encountered Appellant, who was riding in the passenger seat, and his girlfriend, who was driving the vehicle. The officer arrested Appellant on outstanding warrants and his girlfriend for driving without a valid driver’s license.

The arresting officer conducted a search of Appellant incident to arrest and found methamphetamine on his person. The officer also searched Zuniga’s car and found a backpack containing methamphetamine, a handgun, and other evidence related to drug trafficking.

As a result, the federal government charged Appellant with several drug-related offenses.

Motion to Suppress for Unreasonable Traffic Delay

Appellant filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized during the stop, arguing that the fifteen-minute delay in conducting the stop for the turn-signal violation rendered the information provided by the detective who observed the violation stale.

The trial court denied the motion to suppress, holding that the delay in conducting the stop was not enough to render the information stale or the stop unlawful. The court did not state a specific time limitation to which officers must adhere when conducting a traffic stop. Instead, the court stressed that stops following traffic violations must be reasonable in light of the circumstances. In this case, the court found that the fifteen-minute delay was reasonable. As soon as the officer observed the turn-signal violation, he immediately relayed this information to other officers, although none of those officers were in position to stop the vehicle at that time.

Collective Knowledge Doctrine Allows an Officer to Make a Stop for a Violation He Did Not Observe

The trial court further held that the collective knowledge doctrine allowed the arresting officer to lawfully stop the vehicle even though he did not personally observe the traffic violation. The collective knowledge doctrine allows an officer, who does not observe a criminal (or traffic) violation, to conduct a stop when that officer is acting at the request of another officer who actually did observe the violation. Here, the detective who observed the turn-signal violation communicated this information to the traffic officer who ultimately stopped the vehicle; therefore, the detective’s knowledge transferred to the officer who conducted the stop and made the arrest.

The 5th Circuit upheld the search and the conviction, holding that reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle continued to exist despite the 15-minute lapse between the original observation of the traffic offense and the stop. The court explained:

“We make no attempt to articulate a specific time limitation to which officers must adhere in effecting a stop following a traffic violation. Rather, we stress that, consistent with our holdings in similar contexts, stops following transportation violations must be reasonable in light of the circumstances. See, e.g., United States v. Robinson, 741 F.3d 588, 598 (5th Cir. 2014) (emphasizing that “[s]tale information cannot be used to establish probable cause”). To reiterate, we hold only that the elapsed time between an observed violation and any subsequent stop must be reasonable upon consideration of the totality of the circumstances.”

Texting While Driving Law Texas

Texting While Driving in Texas | Texas’ New Traffic Law

By | Traffic Offenses

Texting While Driving Law TexasVirtually every state in America has a statewide law banning the use of cell phones or texting while driving. Until recently, Texas has had minimal restrictions on cell phone usage while driving. Such restrictions include:

  • drivers with learner’s permits are prohibited from using handheld cell phones in the first six months of driving;
  • Drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using wireless communications devices;
  • school bus operators are prohibited from using cell phones while driving if children are present; and
  • in school zones, all drivers are prohibited from texting and using handheld devices while driving.

However, after many failed efforts, Texas has finally passed a law banning the use of handheld devices in certain situations, namely texting. On June 6, 2017, Governor Greg Abbott signed HB 62, which makes using a portable wireless communication device (i.e. a cell phone) to read, write, or send an electronic message (i.e. a text) while operating a motor vehicle a misdemeanor offense.

Notice is Required to be Posted by DPS of the New Ban

The Texas Department of Transportation will be required to post signs on interstate and U.S. highways entering the state indicating that texting while driving is prohibited and carries a fine. Additionally, the new law requires that the driver’s license test cover knowledge about the effects of texting while driving or other actions that constitute distracted driving.

What is the Punishment for Texting While Driving in Texas?

Under the new law, the sole offense of “texting while driving” is not an arrestable offense. A driver’s first offense will be punishable by a fine between $25 and $99, and any subsequent offenses will carry a fine between $100 and $200. Additionally, the Department of Motor Vehicles is not authorized to assign points to a driver’s license for a “texting while driving offense.”

However, if at trial for the offense it is shown that the defendant caused the death or serious bodily injury of another person, the offense will become a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $4,000 and confinement in jail for a term not to exceed one year. Additionally, if the conduct constituting the offense is also a violation of another law, the defendant may be prosecuted under either law, or both.

Possible Defenses to a Texting While Driving Charge:

A driver may have a defense to prosecution if the driver was:

  • not moving;
  • using a hands-free device, including voice-operated technology;
  • reporting illegal activity or summoning emergency help;
  • reading an electronic message that the person reasonably believed concerned an emergency;
  • relaying information to a dispatcher or digital network through a device affixed to the vehicle as part of the driver’s job;
  • activating functions to play music; or
  • using a GPS function.

Additionally, the law does not apply to drivers of authorized emergency or law enforcement vehicles acting in an official capacity or to drivers licensed by the Federal Communications Commission operating a radio frequency device other than a portable wireless communication device.
Furthermore, the law prohibits the search and seizure of a driver’s cell phone unless authorized by another law.

Concerns Regarding HB 62 (Texting While Driving Law)

Supporters of the law believe it will increase safety and reduce distracted driving incidents, while opponents see it as an overreach of the government into citizen’s lives. Some fear the law will allow law enforcement to gain more power to stop citizens by mistaking a person’s legal actions for texting. However, despite these reservations, this law takes effect on September 1, 2017, preempting local ordinances, and applies only to offenses committed on or after that date.

Links to the full text of the bill:

http://www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs/85R/billtext/pdf/HB00062F.pdf#navpanes=0
http://www.legis.state.tx.us/billlookup/History.aspx?LegSess=85R&Bill=HB62

License Plate Scanner BROCA MARTINEZ

Whether “Unconfirmed” Insurance Creates Reasonable Suspicion to Stop

By | Reasonable Suspicion

Is “Unconfirmed” Insurance Enough to Justify a Traffic Stop?

License Plate Scanner BROCA MARTINEZWhile conducting surveillance on an illegal immigration investigation, Homeland Security agents saw a vehicle leave a residence suspected of harboring undocumented immigrants. The agents notified local police officers to be-on-the-lookout for the vehicle. While on patrol, an officer began to follow the defendant’s vehicle because it matched the description of the vehicle from Homeland Security. While following the vehicle, the local officer entered its license plate number into a computer database designed to return vehicle information such as insurance status. The computer indicated the insurance status was “unconfirmed.” Based on his experience using this system, the officer reasoned that the vehicle was most likely uninsured, which is, of course, a violation of Texas law. The officer then conducted a traffic stop of the vehicle and learned that the defendant was in the United States illegally. The officer issued the defendant citations for violating the insurance requirement and driving without a license while he waited for the Homeland Security agents to arrive.

Defendant Challenges the Stop, Arguing that the Officer Lacked Reasonable Suspicion.

The United States government charged the defendant with conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens. The defendant argued that the “unconfirmed” insurance status obtained from the state computer database did not provide the officer reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant. The trial court was unconvinced by this argument.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals recognized that it had not yet addressed whether a state computer database indication of insurance status establishes reasonable suspicion as a matter of law. However, the court commented that the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Tenth Circuits have found that such information may give rise to reasonable suspicion as long as there is either some evidence suggesting the database is reliable or at least an absence of evidence that it is unreliable. In this case, the court followed the other circuits that have decided this issue and held that a state computer database indication of insurance status may establish reasonable suspicion when the officer is familiar with the database and the system itself is reliable.

5th Circuit Upholds the Stop, Finding that “Unconfirmed” Insurance Creates Reasonable Suspicion.

Here, the court found that the officer’s testimony established the reliability of the database. First, the officer explained the process for inputting license plate information. Second, the officer described how records in the database are kept and stated that he was familiar with these records. Finally, the officer testified that based on his knowledge and experience as a police officer, he knows a suspect vehicle is uninsured when an “unconfirmed” status appears because the computer system will either return an “insurance confirmed,” or “unconfirmed” response. As a result, the court held that the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant.

Read the court’s full opinion in UNITED STATES V. BROCA-MARTINEZ, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 7612 (5th Cir. Tex. Apr. 28, 2017)

Community Caretaking Function Texas

Community Caretaking Function: Police May Stop without Reasonable Suspicion

By | DWI

Community Caretaking Function TexasIn November of 2015, we wrote about State v. Byram, a DWI case out of Tarrant County. In Byram, the 2nd Court of Appeals held that a “hunched over” passenger in a vehicle was not enough to invoke the police “community caretaking” function to allow the police to initiate a traffic stop without reasonable suspicion of a violation.  The 2nd Court reversed the DWI conviction and remanded the case back to the trial court. The State appealed this decision to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which issued its opinion today.

When May the Police Invoke the “Community Caretaking” Function to Make a Stop or Detention Without Reasonable Suspicion?

Byram v. State (Tex.Crim.App. 2017)

In this case, State argued that the police officer was engaged in his “community caretaking” function when he pulled the driver over. The State contends that this was a proper exercise of police authority and that the primary purpose of the stop need not be to investigate any alleged violation.

Reviewing the facts in the light most favorable to the trial court’s ruling (denying the suppression motion), the CCA agreed with the State and explained its view on the Community Caretaking function:

Local police officers frequently engage in “community caretaking functions,” totally divorced from the detection, investigation, and acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute. Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 441 (1973). “As part of his duty to ‘serve and protect,’ a police officer may stop and assist an individual whom a reasonable person—given the totality of the circumstances—would believe is in need of help.” Wright v. State, 7 S.W.3d 148, 151 (Tex. Crim. App. 1999). However, because the reasonableness of a community-caretaking seizure sprouts from its dissociation from the competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime, “a police officer may not properly invoke his community caretaking function if he is primarily motivated by a non–community caretaking purpose.” Corbin v. State, 85 S.W.3d 272, 276-277 (Tex. Crim. App. 2002).

The Court went on to lay out a two-step test for determining whether an officer may properly invoke his community-caretaking function:

  1. whether the officer was primarily motivated by a community-caretaking purpose; and
  2. whether the officer’s belief that the individual needed help was reasonable.”*

*The standard for reasonableness is no different when the officer stops a vehicle to check the welfare of a passenger rather than the driver. Wright, 7 S.W.3d at 151.

In this particular case, the CCA held, “[the officer] saw a woman in a precarious situation, and acted reasonably to help her by first asking whether she was okay, and then conducting a traffic stop when his
question went unheeded. This is the sort of ‘sound, commonsense police work that reason
commends, rather than condemns.'”

traffic stop duration king

When Does a Traffic Stop End and Improper Police Conduct Begin?

By | Drug Crimes, Search & Seizure

A Traffic Stop for a Minor Traffic Infraction Leads to Search, Seizure, and Arrest: Exactly When Should Traffic Stops End?

traffic stop duration kingIf you’ve been a licensed (or even unlicensed) driver in Texas for long enough, you’ve experienced a traffic stop. Whether it be for speeding or something worse, a traffic stop is not generally a pleasant experience. But in some traffic stops across the state (hopefully not yours), the police conduct a search of the vehicle, then a search of the driver or passengers, and, finally make an arrest of some sort. How does something like a broken tail light or speeding lead to search, seizure, and arrest? When traffic stops for minor infractions potentially lead to serious criminal charges, it’s important to know how Texas courts define the moment when a traffic stop ends.

King v. State (2nd Court of Appeals – Fort Worth, 2016)

Broken Tail Light Leads to a Traffic Stop

Around 1:00 am, Jennifer Dowling drove Christopher King’s car home from a night on the town. Blue Mound Police noticed that the car had a broken right tail light and conducted a traffic stop pursuant to the infraction. Police ran the standard background check on Dowling, the driver, and King, the passenger, only to discover that neither had a valid driver’s license. As a result, Dowling was arrested for driving without a license. Police did not permit King to drive the car away and informed him that they would impound the car because leaving the car behind posed a safety hazard for other motorists.

Consent to Search Obtained, Traffic Stop Continued

To begin the impounding process, police asked King to exit the vehicle. When King got out of the car, police asked if they could perform a pat-down. Nervously, King complied with the request. When King stood up, a white cylinder-shaped container fell out of King’s pants onto the ground, and he admitted that the container held meth. King was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance.

Trial Court Holds That King Consented to the Pat-Down

Before trial, King filed a motion to suppress the physical evidence—the meth and the container—because the evidence was seized without a warrant. At the suppression hearing, the State prevailed, arguing that King consented to the pat-down, and the interaction was a consensual encounter. King lost his suppression motion, and plead guilty to the charges. The trial court sentenced King to twelve years confinement. Arguing that the traffic stop ended when Dowling was arrested and that the traffic stop was improperly extended to him, King appealed to the Second Court of Appeals.

Second Court of Appeals Discusses Traffic Stops

The Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth relied upon existing case law from the Supreme Court to evaluate the merits of King’s appeal. “A lawful roadside stop begins when a vehicle is pulled over for investigation of a traffic violation.” Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U.S. 323, 333; 129 S. Ct. 781,, 788 (2009). “A traffic stop ends when police have no further need to control the scene.” Id., 129 S. Ct. at 783. According to the Second Court of Appeals, the police needed to control the scene even after Dowling was arrested. In asking King for a pat-down, they were taking reasonable steps to secure the area by ensuring that King was not a safety threat while waiting for a tow truck. Further, “the impoundment of the vehicle was a task tied to the traffic infraction, and King ma[de] no argument that the task [of impoundment] should have reasonably been completed at the time the police asked for consent to the pat-down.” The Second Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s holding that the traffic stop was not improperly extended.

What does all of this mean for motorists? So long as the police are reasonably securing the scene by taking steps in an effort to maintain safety, the police may continue the traffic stop until the conclusion of such safety measures, including but not limited to, pat-downs, security sweeps, background checks, and impoundments.  In this case, King would have had a more colorable argument if he had been a licensed driver and the police extended the stop rather than letting him drive the vehicle away from the scene.

Failure to Maintain a Single Lane of Traffic DWI Attorney Fort Worth

Failure to Maintain a Single Lane of Traffic Leads to a DWI Conviction

By | Reasonable Suspicion

Does an Officer have “Reasonable Suspicion” to Make a Traffic Stop When Vehicle Weaves Inside a Traffic Lane?

Failure to Maintain a Single Lane of Traffic DWI Attorney Fort WorthJames Leming was convicted of DWI after erratic driving alarmed fellow motorists to call police. On January 20, 2012, a citizen filed a report of a “swerving Jeep” and Officer Manfred Gilow responded. As the dashboard camera confirmed, the Jeep traveled thirteen miles under the speed limit; Gilow followed the Jeep for several miles. Officer Gilow observed the Jeep, “drifting [within the] lane to the left [with] tires on the stripes… back to the right, almost hit[ting] the curb twice.”

Officer Gilow said he did not stop the Jeep immediately because the heavy traffic made a traffic stop unsafe at the time. He wanted to wait until the Jeep approached “the 3000 block because I knew there’s parking lots where he could pull over [safely].” Gilow justified the warrantless stop under the Community Caretaking Exception, “due to the …[low] speed…and…swerving, it was an indication that the driver [was] somehow either distracted or physically not able to operate [his] motor vehicle carefully.”

Eventually, the officer pulled Leming over, noting on the police report, the smell of liquor. Though Leming denied drinking, he said he had taken some prescription pills. Officer Gilow conducted field sobriety tests and placed Leming under arrest for DWI.

Read the full opinion in Leming v. State.

Leming’s DWI Trial and Motion to Suppress the Stop

Before the trial began, Leming filed a motion to suppress the traffic stop, which was denied. At trial, Leming pled guilty to and was convicted of DWI. Because Leming had two prior DWI convictions (a felony under Texas law), the court assessed punishment at ten years’ imprisonment. Tex. Penal Code § 49.09(b)(2).

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling, holding that the trial court should have granted the motion to suppress. Leming v. State, 454 S.W.3d 78 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 2014). The Sixth Circuit concluded that Gilow lacked reasonable suspicion to detain Leming for the offense of failure to maintain a single lane under Section 545.0600(a) of the Texas Transportation Code. The court reasoned “in order for it to have been unlawful, the encroachment must have been made unsafely; [here,] there was no real danger of his colliding with another vehicle in an adjacent lane.” The State’s Prosecuting Attorney petitioned the Court of Criminal Appeals for discretionary review, arguing that the citizen’s report coupled with Officer Gilow’s observations were sufficient for reasonable suspicion that Leming was driving the Jeep under the influence.

The Issue Before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Regarding the Traffic Stop

The Court of Criminal Appeals had to determine whether a driver must BOTH fail to maintain a single lane AND not change lanes without checking to assure the maneuver can be accomplished safely, before it may be said that a driver has committed an offense. Such an offense would rise to the level of reasonable suspicion for a constitutionally-sound traffic stop.

What Does the Texas Transportation Code Say About Driving Within a Single Lane?

Section 545.060(a) states that “an operator on a roadway divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic (1) shall drive as nearly as practical entirely within a single lane; and (2) may not move from the lane unless that movement can be made safely.”

The CCA Holds that a Driver Must Maintain a Single Lane AND Must not Leave the Lane Unless it is Safe.

The CCA explains that the fact that both the requirement to stay within a single lane as for as practical and the prohibition to not leave that lane unless it is safe to do so, originally appeared in the same subsection of the statute, does not indicate that the Legislature intended that both must be violated before an offense has occurred. Rather, the CCA believes that the Legislature intended a violation of EITHER part of the statute constitutes separately actionable offenses.

The CCA says that Officer Gilow knew from personal observations, as well as from the citizen’s report, that Leming had some sort of trouble maintaining a steady driving pattern while traveling under the speed limit. “That was sufficient information to justify a temporary detention to investigate whether Leming had actually failed at some point to remain in his dedicated lane of traffic as far as it was practical to do so under the circumstances—it matters not whether that failure was unsafe.” Further, Officer Gilow had an objectively reasonable basis to suspect Leming of driving under the influence.

As a matter of principle, the CCA notes, “it [would be] counterproductive and contrary to common sense to set the reasonable suspicion bar for DWI so high that law enforcement must hesitate to investigate such hazardous driving for fear that the stop will later be invalidated.” In a Concurring Opinion, Judge Richardson adds, “I believe [the community caretaking exception] provided justification for the officer’s stop, where, a reasonable police officer—given the totality of the circumstances-would believe [someone] is in need of help.” Dissenting, Judge Keasler stated, “this is a close case…the majority reaches the wrong result by misconstruing the statute and finds reasonable suspicion on the basis of a single insufficient articulable fact.” Judge Newell also dissented in this case.

Texas DPS Drivers License Surcharges

Texas Drivers License Surcharge | Texas DPS Driver Responsibility Program

By | Traffic Offenses

**The following article is informational only and is provided by Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC. We cannot answer questions about your specific surcharges. Please contact Texas DPS directly to inquire about your account.**

Drivers License Surcharges Make Drivers Pay in Texas

Texas DPS Drivers License SurchargesCertain driving offenses in Texas can ensnare unwary drivers in a vicious cycle of fees, surcharges and license suspensions. The Texas Department of Public Safety’s Driver Responsibility Program imposes hefty surcharges on drivers who commit certain offenses or accumulate too many points on their driving records. Drivers who don’t pay these surcharges can end up with suspended drivers licenses. Notably, this TX surcharge is in addition to all other fines and reinstatement fees associated with the original violations.

Contact DPS Regarding Your Surcharge Account

For assistance with questions about your Surcharge account, you can contact Texas DPS Municipal Services Bureau (MSB) at:

1-800-688-6882

Program Specialists are available Monday – Thursday 8:00am-9:00pm, Friday 8:00am – 6:00pm and Saturday 8:00am – 12:00pm.

Which Offenses are Subject to the Texas DPS Surcharge?

There are two ways that drivers can incur a surcharge under the Texas program: through conviction of specific traffic offenses or through the accumulation of six points on their driving record. The convictions that can result in a Texas surcharge are driving while intoxicated (DWI); driving an uninsured vehicle; driving with an invalid license (one that has been suspended or revoked); and driving without a license (or with a license that has expired). In addition to drivers committing these offenses, drivers who incur six or more points on their driving records are assessed a surcharge every year they have six or more points on their records.

The amounts of these TX surcharges can be substantial:

  • For a first-time DWI violation, drivers are subject to a $1000 a year surcharge for three years.
  • A second violation results in a $1,500 a year surcharge.
  • If the DWI offense includes a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 or high, the license surcharge is $2,000 per year for three years.
  • Having no insurance can result in a $250 a year Texas DPS surcharge for three years.

Payment of Texas DPS Surcharges and the Texas Driver Responsibility Program

Texas surcharges must be paid within 105 days or DPS will suspend the driver’s license. The driver’s license will remain suspended until either the surcharges and related costs are paid in full or the driver establishes an installment agreement for payment of the surcharges. Drivers may pay the Texas surcharge online at www.txsurchargeonline.com, and they may also make arrangements to pay the surcharge through a monthly installment plan. Drivers should be aware though that missing a single payment under the installment plan can result in the suspension of their license. If the driver is unaware of the suspension and is caught driving, he or she could be convicted of driving without a valid license and be subject to another DPS surcharge for that violation.

To pay surcharges in Texas, visit the DPS surcharge website at: www.txsurchargeonline.com.

 

Relief from the Surcharges | TX DPS Indigence and Incentive Programs

There are two programs available to help Texans of limited means meet their obligations under the TX surcharge program: the Indigence Program and the Incentive Program.

  • Driver Responsibility Surcharge Indigence Program:

    Under the Driver Responsibility Surcharge Indigence Program, individuals living at or below 125% of the federal poverty level may be eligible to have the surcharges reduced to 10% of the total amount assessed, not to exceed $250.

  • The Surcharge Incentive Program:

    The Surcharge Incentive Program is available to eligible individuals with incomes above 125% of the federal poverty level but below 300% of the federal poverty level. Under the Texas Surcharge Incentive Program, the surcharge amount owed may be reduced by 50 percent.

Under both the Surcharge Indigence and Surcharge Incentive programs, if individuals are making surcharge payments and do not have an additional enforcement action on their driving records, they may regain their driving privileges if they have been lost. Individuals can apply for these two relief programs from the Texas surcharges online.

Additionally, drivers with suspended or revoked licenses as a result of their failure to pay surcharges may be eligible to apply for an occupational license for purposes of getting to work or school.

Unpopular Texas Drivers License Surcharge Program Unlikely To Be Repealed

Since the DPS program was enacted in 2003, it has received much criticism. More than 1.2 million Texas drivers have been stripped of their licenses under the program, unable or unwilling to pay the billions they owe the state in surcharges. The vast majority of these drivers are probably driving on their suspended licenses. The program is understandably unpopular in Texas, and various groups have called for its repeal. However, attempts to repeal or modify the program have been unsuccessful in the state legislature because the program is a significant source of revenue for the state. Legislation that would ease the penalties under the program passed the Texas Senate last year, but has not been made law.

Check Your Surcharge Online or Make a Texas Surcharge Payment at www.txsurchargeonline.com

If you are unsure whether you have a pending TX DPS surcharge or if you would like to pay your Texas DPS surcharge, you can do this online at www.txsurchargeonline.com. Surcharges in Texas are frustrating and sometimes confusing. If you need clarification on your TX surcharge, you should contact the Texas Department of Public Safety by phone or on their website at www txsurchargeonline com.