Dallas, TX asked in Criminal Law and Civil Rights for Texas

Q: Was pulled over for a traffic violation, asked to step out of the car, asked if he could search the vehicle

the answer was NO He did anyways was arrested unlawfully and was illegally in jail for over a month till someone advocated for me and had all the charges lifted. A very painful agonizing ordeal for many, what do I do now? Can I file a civil suit against the department against the county against the officer for loss of wages embarrassment humiliation mental anguish my fourth amendment absolutely 100% proven it's been violated, what do I do next?

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1 Lawyer Answer
Kiele Linroth Pace
Kiele Linroth Pace
  • Criminal Law Lawyer
  • Austin, TX
  • Licensed in Texas

A: You should consult an attorney who takes FEDERAL civil rights cases under Section 1983.

From a criminal law perspective, the severity of policy mistakes that could result in a prosecutor dismissing a case is lower than the severity of police mistakes necessary to justify a ruling against them. There is a wide swath of police misconduct that is only punished by suppressing the evidence they collected, not with penalties against the officers or the department.

Also, I would not assume that the arrest was unlawful. Perhaps it was, but the US Supreme Court says the cops can legally arrest you for a traffic violation, even something as minor as a seatbelt violation. See Atwater v. Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318.

Furthermore, I would not assume that the search was unlawful. Once there is cause to arrest the driver for a traffic violation, the vehicle is in police custody unless a passenger is available to take it. Once the car is in police custody then they may conduct an "inventory search" of the interior and trunk. This doesn't mean they can tear the car apart and look behind the door panels or in the AC ducts, but they can legally open containers, etc.

Finally, I would not assume that there is enough here to beat the Qualified Immunity that officers have for mistakes made in the course of their work. Unlike a surgeon, it is not enough to show that a cop made a mistake, you must show that it was deliberate or that he was specifically targeting you for some improper reason... for example because of your race, religion, or gender.

But cases against the cops are not filed by criminal defense attorneys. We just try to get the evidence suppressed. If you want to file a civil case in an attempt to collect damages then talk to a federal civil rights attorney.

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