Pulled Over in TX? Know Your Rights To Prevent a DWI Arrest

July 17, 2020 | By Brandon Fulgham
Pulled Over in TX? Know Your Rights To Prevent a DWI Arrest
Pulled Over in TX? Know Your Rights To Prevent a DWI Arrest

What Are your Rights When Pulled Over?

Just because you are pulled over by the police in the state of Texas does not mean you are automatically guilty of a crime. Nor does being pulled over automatically mean your rights are suspended.

Why Can Law Enforcement Officers Pull You Over In Texas?

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Understanding Reasonable Suspicion

Police officers in Texas must have reasonable suspicion to pull over a vehicle. This means they need specific reasons for suspecting someone of committing a crime or recently having committed one, especially under suspicion of a DWI.

Here are several reasons that can justify such a traffic stop:

  • Erratic Driving: Swerving or driving unpredictably can suggest impaired driving.
  • Speeding: Excessive speeding is often associated with intoxication.
  • Slow Driving: Driving significantly below the speed limit without clear reason can indicate a problem.
  • Failure to Obey Traffic Signals: Ignoring stop signs or red lights can signal impaired judgment.
  • Abrupt Stops: Stopping suddenly or without cause may suggest the driver is under the influence.
  • Delayed Responses: Slow reaction times at intersections or traffic signals can be a red flag.
  • Inconsistent Signaling: Failing to use turn signals or using them incorrectly can indicate confusion.
  • Weaving Between Lanes: Difficulty maintaining a single lane is a common sign of impairment.

Given the broad range of justifiable reasons for traffic stops, it's crucial to understand your rights to protect yourself if you believe the traffic violation is unjust.

When Can a Texas Police Officer Search Your Car?

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If you are unjustly pulled over, a police officer in Texas does not have the immediate right to search your vehicle without probable cause.

Here are several scenarios where a police officer may have the legal grounds to search your car:

  • Smell of Marijuana: Detecting the odor of marijuana can constitute probable cause.
  • Smell of Alcohol: The strong smell of alcohol on your breath or in the car could justify a search.
  • Visible Alcohol Bottles: Open containers of alcohol in the vehicle may lead to a search.
  • Drug Dog Alert: A drug-sniffing dog indicating the presence of illicit substances gives probable cause.

Additionally, if the officer has a valid search warrant, they are legally permitted to search your vehicle.

If an officer lacks probable cause, you can legally refuse a search. However, should the officer have probable cause to search your vehicle, it is essential to maintain the following rights:

  • Right to Remain Silent: Anything you say can be used against you, so it’s best to speak only when necessary.
  • Right to Refuse Field Sobriety Tests: You may decline these tests, though you’ll need to sign a form indicating your refusal.
  • Right to Compliance: Staying compliant and non-confrontational can help preserve your rights and strengthen your defense later.

Exercising these rights can help you defend yourself against charges like DWI, possession of controlled substances, or illegal weapons. Being aware of your rights and using them appropriately can significantly impact the outcome of your case.

What Not to Do If a Texas Cop Tries to Pull You Over for DWI

Don't argue with the police.

A police officer must have reasonable cause to pull you over and arrest you on charges of driving while intoxicated. In some situations, however, the officer may not be justified. Even if you feel like you are being unfairly targeted for your age, gender, ethnicity, or race, though, it's better to cooperate and work with an attorney later to get the charges dropped.

Don't press for information; exercise your right to remain silent.

Your arresting officer is required by law to read you your Miranda rights when you are arrested. If you did not hear phrases like “you have the right to remain silent” and “you have the right to an attorney” when you were arrested, this can help your case down the line.

Don't escalate any conflict.

If the police officer treats you with disrespect, intimidation, or any other inappropriate conduct during the time of your arrest, the evidence against you may be inadmissible in court. Don't add to the problem by yelling insults or resisting arrest. Police officers are required to follow protocol, and if they fail, you shouldn't have to face charges if you didn't retaliate.

DWI Laws and Conviction in Texas

Understanding Penalties and Fines for DWI Charges

In Texas, you can be arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI) if your blood alcohol concentration is 0.08 or higher. First and subsequent offense penalties for driving intoxicated include:

  • Jail time: 3 days to 180 days - First Offense
  • Fine: Up to $2,000 - First Offense
  • Driver’s license suspension: Up to 1 year - First Offense
  • Additional fee: $1,000 to $2,000 to retain the driver’s license - First Offense
  • Longer incarceration times - Subsequent Offense
  • Higher fines - Subsequent Offense
  • Extended driver’s license suspension - Subsequent Offense
  • Installation of an ignition interlock switch on your vehicle after two or more DWI convictions within five years - Subsequent Offense

The seriousness of these penalties and their effects on your ability to earn a living, get a job, or maintain your daily life cannot be overstated. It’s crucial to contact a Texas DWI lawyer to help navigate your case and protect your future.

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Requesting a Hearing

After a DWI arrest, you have just 15 days to request an Administrative License Revocation (ALR) hearing. This is crucial to avoid an automatic license suspension. If you request the hearing in time, you can continue driving until the hearing takes place, giving you time to prepare your defense.

Reaching Out to a Lawyer

Reach out to a lawyer immediately after your arrest. Your attorney will represent you at your first appearance hearing and help develop your defense strategy. Early legal counsel is essential to navigate the complexities of the DWI process effectively.

“First Appearance” Hearing

At this hearing, the district attorney will gather evidence, including chemical test results. This evidence will be shared with your attorney, setting the stage for future court proceedings. The date for your trial may be determined during subsequent "announcement" hearings.

The Trial

If your case goes to trial, it will typically be heard by a jury (six jurors for misdemeanors, twelve for felonies). During the trial:

  • Both sides provide opening statements
  • Present evidence
  • Call witnesses
  • Deliver closing statements

The jury then votes on the verdict and any penalties if found guilty.


If found guilty, you will face DWI penalties ranging from probation and license suspension to heavy fines. A skilled criminal defense lawyer can help mitigate these penalties.

Can I Refuse a Sobriety Test in Texas?

Understanding your rights and obligations during a traffic stop for suspected drunk driving in Texas is crucial. Below, we outline when you can refuse a sobriety test, the implications of such refusal, and how to identify if your rights were violated.

When You Can Refuse

In Texas, there are specific circumstances under which you have the right to refuse certain sobriety tests:

  • Pre-Arrest Testing: If a police officer requests that you take a voluntary "preliminary alcohol screening" test, such as a handheld breathalyzer or field sobriety tests, you have the right to refuse. These pre-arrest tests are not covered under Texas's implied consent law, which means you are not legally obligated to comply.
  • Field Sobriety Tests: These tests are often subjective and inaccurate. Even sober individuals can fail them, so it is generally advisable to refuse these tests to avoid providing potentially incriminating evidence.

Refusing these tests can help prevent the prosecution from using unreliable results against you in court.

When You Cannot Refuse

There are situations where refusal is not an option without facing legal consequences:

  • Post-Arrest Testing: Once you are lawfully arrested under probable cause for DWI, Texas's implied consent law requires you to submit to chemical testing (blood, breath, or urine). Refusal at this stage can lead to penalties, such as suspension of your driver's license and other administrative consequences.
  • Warrant for Blood Alcohol Testing: If an officer obtains a warrant, you must comply with the blood alcohol test. Refusing a court-ordered test can result in additional charges.

Refusing a post-arrest test can lead to an administrative license revocation, resulting in the suspension of your driving privileges.

Your Rights Under Texas Law

Understanding your rights can help you navigate a DWI traffic stop more effectively:

  • Right to Remain Silent: You are not obliged to answer incriminating questions. Politely inform the officer that you choose to exercise your right to remain silent.
  • Right to Refuse Pre-Arrest Tests: As mentioned, you can lawfully refuse preliminary breath tests and field sobriety tests.
  • Right to Legal Counsel: After your arrest, you have the right to contact an attorney. Exercise this right as soon as possible for guidance and representation.

Knowing and exercising these rights can greatly influence the outcome of your case.

Recognizing Potential Rights Violations

To determine whether your rights were violated during a DWI traffic stop, consider the following:

  • Lack of Probable Cause: If the officer did not have sufficient reason to believe you were intoxicated, any subsequent testing or arrest could be challenged.
  • Unlawful Stop: The officer must have a reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop. If this was not present, your rights may have been infringed.
  • Coercion or Misleading Information: If the officer led you to believe that pre-arrest tests were mandatory or used intimidation tactics, this might constitute a violation of your rights.

If law enforcement officers have violated your rights, it's essential to document the incident and seek legal advice immediately. Given the complicated nature of Texas law and consent to sobriety tests, having an experienced DWI attorney is invaluable.

Avoid A DWI Conviction and Protect Your Rights With An Experienced DWI Lawyer

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Being pulled over under suspicion of DWI in Texas can be stressful, but it doesn’t always mean a conviction. You have rights that you can and should exercise calmly and courteously.

Contact a qualified Texas DWI lawyer for a free case evaluation to uphold your rights and achieve the most favorable outcome in this complicated situation.

About the Author:

Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU, and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth. He has been recognized for his work by Expertise (Best Criminal Defense Lawyers in Forth Worth and Best DUI Lawyers in Fort Worth, both 2020), The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.

About The Author:

Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor. Now, he uses that knowledge to anticipate opposing counsel’s arguments and protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth. His work has been recognized by Expertise (Best Criminal Defense Lawyers in Forth Worth and Best DUI Lawyers in Fort Worth, both 2020), Fort Worth Magazine, and The National Trial Lawyers, just to name a few.

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