How a Background Check on Your Texas License Plate Can Lead to a DWI Arrest
An arrest for driving while intoxicated in Texas starts with the police officer having reasonable suspicion that the driver has broken the law, either while monitoring passing traffic or when responding to an accident. An officer is legally allowed to stop a driver if the driver has committed a traffic violation or is driving in a manner that suggests impairment. The officer may also conduct a background check on drivers by entering their license plate numbers into a database, which may indicate that the driver has an outstanding warrant or the vehicle is not confirmed to have liability insurance. During the stop, the officer can arrest the driver for DWI if there is probable cause to believe that the driver is intoxicated.
Precedent in Texas
A 2017 Texas appellate court ruling confirmed that a police officer is legally allowed to stop a vehicle that a database flagged for not having insurance, even if the database was inaccurate. In 2015, an officer was entering plate numbers of passing vehicles when one was listed for “unconfirmed insurance,” which could mean that the insurance on the vehicle had lapsed. He stopped the vehicle to check for proof of insurance and eventually arrested the driver on suspicion of DWI.
The defendant was convicted for the DWI charge but appealed the decision, saying that the traffic stop was not legal because his vehicle was insured at the time. Despite the inaccuracy in the database, the appellate court confirmed the conviction:
- The officer said he had used the database tens of thousands of times and found that it was accurate in almost all cases.
- The officer had no reason to doubt the accuracy of the database, which is maintained by the FBI and Texas Department of Public Safety.
- Driving without liability insurance is a crime, and an indication of unconfirmed insurance from the database created enough reasonable suspicion for the officer to stop the driver.
The court stated that the database inaccuracy would have been relevant if the driver was being charged with driving without insurance. Though the court would have preferred more objective information about the accuracy of the database, it found that this lack of information was not enough to overturn the defendant’s conviction.
Contact a San Antonio DWI Defense Lawyer
A DWI charge can be dismissed or defeated if the arresting officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop you, even if there was evidence after the stop that you may have been intoxicated. A San Antonio DWI defense attorney at the Law Offices of Sam H. Lock will review the circumstances leading to your arrest to find holes in the prosecution’s case. To schedule a free consultation, call 888-726-5625.