Limiting arrests for nonjailable violations will NOT stop officers from arresting dangerous people; it WILL reduce pointless arrests of drivers and make traffic stops safer for both police and drivers
Jail is not an allowable punishment for a traffic violation, yet thousands of Texans are arrested and booked in jail each year for minor infractions. Arrest data from Houston alone shows that thousands of people are arrested on non-jailable Class C misdemeanors each year, most of them traffic infractions that should be punishable by at most a $500 fine. These arrests must end now!
Go here to see a copy of the petition.
Bi-partisan coalition for reform
The following organizations support this proposal: Texas Public Policy Foundation, Empower Texans, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Faith in Texas, Texans for Accountable Government (TAG), ACLU of Texas, Austin Justice Coalition, Texas Fair Defense, and Just Liberty.
Nonjailable offenses shouldn’t result in jail time
DPS policy must limit such arrests to those where the officer has probable cause to believe that:
- failure to arrest creates a danger to the individual or others; or
- failure to arrest will allow a continued breach of the peace;
- the person will not show up in court.
This will encourage cite and release while ensuring that officers can arrest if there is a concern about potential family violence or a concern that any other class c misdemeanor behavior might escalate. This meets the requirements of the Republican Party Platform, and addresses concerns express by law enforcement with a stronger “bright line” restriction on arrest and jailing people on offenses for which jail is not an allowable consequence.
These arrests are a drain on time, energy and resources
Booking a person for a minor infraction takes a toll on police time, jail staff time, and judge’s time, not to mention healthcare staff’s time. The booking procedure for a Class C misdemeanor includes processing paperwork, taking mug shots and fingerprints, collecting clothing and personal property, conducting a full body search, checking for warrants, and performing health evaluations and mental health assessments. In Dallas, the wait alone for a nurse to perform a health screening can be 45 minutes, lengthening what can be an hours-long process that keeps officers off of the streets.
Being arrested for a minor traffic violation can have repercussions on a person’s home life, social standing and employment. The driver may have a child sitting in the car or waiting to be picked up. Perhaps they have an elderly parent awaiting care. Maybe the driver is headed to work. Most of us have responsibilities, and failure to attend to them is not an option. Jobs are lost, children are scared and in doubt, and dependent parents are left without adequate care.
Harris County Study of Arrests for Fine-Only Charges
The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition reviewed all arrests in Harris County over a 16-week period from July 13, 2016, to October 5, 2016. Of the 23,578 people arrested during this period, 2,567 (11%) were arrested for Class C misdemeanors punishable by a fine only. Of those, 763 people (30%) were arrested on a single Class C misdemeanor charge, mostly for a traffic violation. The remaining 1,804 people were arrested on a combination of fine-only charges, mostly a combination of registration, inspection, vehicle maintenance issues, or other traffic infractions. If this data is representative of the state, then tens of thousands of Texans are arrested on traffic infractions each year.
When soccer mom Gail Atwater took the City of Lago Vista to the Supreme Court over her arrest on a seat belt violation, the dissent in the 2001 decision against Ms. Atwater (5-4) noted: “A broad range of conduct falls into the category of fine-only misdemeanors… Such unbounded discretion [given to law enforcement] carries with it grave potential for abuse. The majority takes comfort in the lack of evidence of ‘an epidemic of unnecessary minor-offense arrests’.” Fifteen years later, we face that epidemic.These arrests make traffic stops less safe
Officers with probable cause to arrest on another crime will still do so
Under these policies, police could still arrest individuals who are in possession of illegal weapons (like Timothy McVeigh) or who are committing other more serious crimes. A driver who is not in breach of the peace or presenting some danger will not be arrested.
Officers with no evidence for believing a peaceable driver has committed another crime will have to give them a ticket
Police critics defend a practice that allows officers to arrest and jail people on a traffic charge in order to facilitate an impromptu roadside investigation searching for other crimes with no evidence.
Here’s how that works. A driver is pulled over. The officer asks for license, insurance and checks registration. All is well. While standing by the driver’s window, the officer looks inside the car (with a flashlight if at night) and sees nothing. The officer starts to ask the driver questions – where are you going, where did you come from. At this point, there is actually no evidence that the driver has committed some other crime.
- What should happen next: the officer, currently having no evidence of another crime, should ask the driver for consent to search the car. The driver has a right to say no. If the answer is no, officer should send the driver on with a ticket, ending the impromptu fishing expedition.
- What happens next in thousands of cases: the officer arrests the person for the traffic infraction and searches the car without consent. In most cases (we know this because if contraband were found, the person would be arrested on a drug or gun charge), no evidence is found and the person must now be booked and jailed on the original traffic offense.
This aggressive, wasteful investigation practice makes traffic stops dangerous for both drivers and officers
When drivers are about to be arrested for a simple traffic infraction, they simply don’t believe this is possible. Drivers get irate. Police respond aggressively. Things can go badly. Let’s align police practices to driver’s most basic rights and make stops safer for both.
- If Sandra Bland had been given a citation for failure to signal a lane change, and then the officer had sent her on her way, she would be alive today.
- If Breaion King had been given a citation for speeding, and then the officer had sent her on her way, the City of Austin would have been spared the expense of a major lawsuit that is still pending in the courts.
- If most of the thousands of people arrested and booked on class c misdemeanor charges in Harris County got citations instead, it would free up jail space for dangerous people. On March 17, 2017 Harris County informed a Houston Press reporter that six people were sitting in jail that day because they could not afford even the small bail amount posted for a class c charge.