In Texas our pro conviction appellate courts have blessed the practice of law enforcement profiling drivers and investigating routine traffic stops as drug trafficking. This practice involves an officer deciding that you are a drug dealer and then following you until you commit a traffic violation.
I thought racial profiling was illegal in Texas?
It is. But to get anywhere with that you an officer honest or dumb enough to testify that race was a factor in his investigation. LEO learns quickly to keep those thoughts to himself. Our numerous traffic laws allow great cover for profiling. DPS knows to just follow who they want to stop until they can find some evidence of a traffic violation. That’s considered great police work in Texas. We allow and encourage non-racial profiling. Which means a DPS Trooper can list any reason but race as a reason to follow you and wait for a traffic violation and then search for drugs.
So what do cops look for when they want to profile a driver for transporting drugs?
This brings us to our case of the day, Neil Lawrence vs. The State of Texas.
Neil was driving through Potter County (Amarillo) with a lot of pot in his car. Neil is spotted by a DPS Trooper. The DPS Trooper admits that he immediately profiled Neil as a drug mule because “it was a clean car, with a single male driver, exhibiting an out-of-state license plate, and traveling east.” Neil’s car was eventually searched and the cops found a lot of weed, which holy shit it’s embarrassing how our state still considers possessing too much forbidden plant material an offense worthy of prison. What is wrong with us? Anyway, Neil was convicted and filed an appeal because the officer stopped him for a traffic violation, but investigated the case as drug trafficking. The conviction was upheld on appeal.
Lesson No. 1 from this case- Don’t be have out of state plates and drive alone in a clean car, otherwise the cops will assume you’re riding dirty. This is common practice for DPS in many counties. Traffic tickets are boring and it can feel really important to make a felony drug bust, so DPS Troopers will have fun by trying to guess who has drugs on them and bringing out their Clever Hans K-9 team.
And guess what? There isn’t any penalty for Troopers who guess wrong and treat an innocent driver as a drug trafficker (unless they go for the DPS favorite roadside body cavity search). Locally, the go-to DPS stop for profiled drivers is defective license plate lights, or a “dirty” license plate. If you get stopped for that on 80, 20, or 30 headed east, you can expect a K9 unit in your near future.
Things not to do when you are transporting drugs and stopped by DPS.
Neil was stopped for driving on the shoulder and the Trooper immediately went into narcotic investigation mode. Now the 4th Amendment usually requires an officer to detain a driver only as long as necessary to investigate a traffic stop, but we have effectively repealed the 4th Amendment in Texas to make it easier to uphold drug convictions. Ergo, we’ve expanded that rule to allow for DPS fishing expeditions for drugs if DPS can list a few reasons to think you have drugs.
So what makes DPS think you are carrying drugs? In Neil’s case the officer listed the following as reasons to profile Neil as a drug dealer-
- Neil’s vague answers to questions propounded by the officer regarding his destination
- “erratic” hand and foot movement indicative of nervous behavior
- nervous behavior growing when, according to the trooper
- Neil didn’t act happy enough when the Trooper said he would get a warning
- Neil’s failure to make eye contact, volunteering of unsolicited information, driving a rental vehicle under an expired rental contract and not knowing that it had expired, and having flown from Pennsylvania to Phoenix to drive to Oklahoma.
Lesson No. 2- Don’t act nervous. Nervousness alone isn’t supposed to be enough to justify an extended investigation, but it can be a factor. So be cool.
Lesson No. 3- Don’t drive a rental car if you are transporting drugs. Really, it’s something that DPS looks for. This goes double for an out of state rental car.
Lesson No. 4- Don’t be alone, but if you are going to drive with someone else have a back story that makes sense and that you both understand. Drug stop investigation 101 is to separate the driver and passenger and see if their stories match. So get the details of the backstory straight. Which brings me to no. 5
Lesson No. 5- Bullshit cover stories are easy to spot and will be used against you. Job interviews, family reunions, visiting a cousin or friend are pretty common cover stories. But it needs to make sense logistically and you better have the details down about your trip. That is, don’t say you flew to Las Vegas to borrow a car from some guy, but you don’t remember his last name or phone number, and you agreed to drive to Louisiana and leave the car with his cousin Peanut, who lives in a blue house near the creek, but you don’t know the address. Which leads us to lesson No. 6.
Lesson No. 6- It’s always best to say NOTHING. Really. In Texas, all you have to do is hand over your license and insurance. After that, shut up. If you have to talk ask if you are free to go, ask if you are being detained, ask for a lawyer, assert your right to not answer questions, and never consent to a search. Be polite, and if the police search anyway, let them. Never try to stop a search.