The Fourth Amendment and Traffic Stops: A Completely Fictitious, Tongue-in-Cheek Guide to Being a Successful Drug Courier

I. Introduction

If you are a manufacturer of a product, it is important to get that product to your customers as quickly as possible, with the least amount of hassle and cost. If your product just happens to be illegal drugs, such as cocaine or marijuana, your needs are no different—you still want an effective and efficient flow of goods from the point of origin to the point of consumption. To achieve this goal, you may be required to use the services of couriers to transport your product to the distributors or to carry the proceeds back to you. In many instances, your couriers will use a motor vehicle, ranging from cars to vans to tractor trailers.1

The primary job of these couriers is to deliver the goods to the intended destination. This is not an easy task, as couriers must run the gauntlet of multiple law enforcement agencies, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Border Patrol agents, highway patrol officers, sheriff departments, and local police departments. The job has been made even more difficult by the traffic-stop tactics employed by these law enforcement agencies.

How do you, as a supplier, increase the odds of your couriers safely arriving with your product? This guide could help. Gleaned from case law (primarily from the Fifth Circuit and Texas courts), this guide provides many examples of what not to do. Or, put another way, this guide sets out examples of alleged conduct that initially resulted in the courier’s vehicle being stopped. It also includes alleged behavior by the courier(s) after the stop that ultimately resulted in a search of the vehicle and the seizure of the product. It is important to remember that even where the evidence is seized but ultimately suppressed, the merchandise is lost nonetheless, which is what you are trying to prevent. In the long run, if these situations can be avoided, then your distribution system should run smoothly.

II. Law Regarding Traffic Stops

A. The Initial Stop

In Terry v. Ohio, the United States Supreme Court held that police officers may detain individuals briefly on the street, even though there is no probable cause to arrest them, as long as they have a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot.2 Courts have applied the reasoning in Terry to traffic stops, holding that the “stopping of a vehicle and detention of its occupants constitutes a ‘seizure’ under the Fourth Amendment.”3 A traffic stop, whether supported by probable cause or reasonable suspicion, is treated as a Terry stop.4 To determine the legality of police investigatory stops, the Fifth Circuit utilizes a two-part test: 1) “examine whether the officer’s action was justified at its inception”; and 2) “inquire whether the officer’s subsequent actions were reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the stop.”5

As for the first prong, if a traffic violation actually occurred, no matter how minor, the stop will be justified.6 The second prong requires much more analysis, as a bright-line approach to reviewing the reasonableness of traffic-related detentions has been rejected.7 “Whether an officer’s actions are ‘reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the stop’ is a fact-specific question often informed by ‘timing and sequence.’”8 A search of a vehicle “is not reasonably related to the circumstances justifying a traffic violation stop when the search in ques­tion occurs after the time required for an officer to issue a citation (or to decide against doing so) and to complete a ‘computer check’ for outstanding warrants and vehicle theft.”9

In United States v. Santiago,10 the court set out the basic rule regarding an officer’s actions during a traffic stop:

During a traffic stop, an officer can request a driver’s license, insurance papers, and vehicle registration; he or she may also run a computer check and issue a citation. The officer may detain and question the subjects of a traffic stop during the time a computer check is being conducted. Furthermore, this court usually does not scrutinize the particular questions asked during a stop so long as they tend to relate to the purpose of the stop.

* * *

However, a Fourth Amendment violation occurs when the detention extends beyond the valid reason for the stop. Once a computer check is completed and the officer either issues a citation or determines that no citation should be issued, the detention should end and the driver should be free to leave. In order to continue a detention after such a point, the officer must have a reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that a crime has been or is being committed.


B. Prolonging the Stop Requires Reasonable Suspicion

“[T]o prolong a detention after issuing a citation or determining that no citation should be issued, an officer must have a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that a crime ‘has been or is being committed.’”11 “Reasonable suspicion ‘exists when the detaining officer can point to specific and articulable facts that, when taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant the search and seizure.’”12 An officer’s “hunch” or “feeling” that a crime has been or is being committed is not sufficient to support reasonable suspicion.13

C. Recent K-9 Decision

Recently, the United States Supreme Court made it a little more difficult for law enforcement to use drug-detecting dogs to locate merchandise. In Rodriguez v. United States, the Court held that “a police stop exceeding the time needed to handle the matter for which the stop was made violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures. A seizure justified only by a police-observed traffic violation, therefore, ‘become[s] unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete th[e] mission’ of issuing a ticket for the violation.”14 In that case, an officer stopped a vehicle for temporarily driving on the shoulder of the road.15 After running a license and warrant check, the officer returned the driver’s information and issued a warning. At that point, the purpose of the stop had ended, but the officer requested permission to run his drug dog around the vehicle. Despite the driver’s refusal to give consent, the officer told him to turn off the ignition, exit the vehicle, and stand in front of the patrol car. The dog alerted to the presence of drugs, and a search of the vehicle revealed a large bag of methamphetamine.16 The question of whether the officer had reasonable suspicion to justify detaining the driver beyond completion of the traffic infraction investigation was not considered by the lower appeals court and thus remained open for consideration on remand.17

With this background in mind, the following information should be used to prepare your vehicles and to train your couriers so that your merchandise will safely reach its intended destination. Bear in mind that the use of this guide will in no way guarantee that your courier will not get stopped or that your merchandise will not be confiscated. However, with a little effort on your part, you might just lower the chances of that happening.

III. Make Certain Vehicle Is in Good Condition

THE WOLF: About the car, is there anything I need to know? Does it stall, does it make a lot of noise, does it smoke, is there gas in it, anything?
JULES: Aside from how it looks, the car’s cool.
THE WOLF: Positive? Don’t get me out on the road and I find out the brake lights don’t work.
JULES: Hey man, as far as I know, the m——r’s tip-top.18

The Wolf was justified in being concerned about the condition of the car. Driving a vehicle that has a malfunctioning taillight, headlight, or other similar non-functioning equipment could easily lead to a traffic stop and the loss of product and/or funds. Before a courier leaves on his delivery run, it is imperative that the vehicle’s equipment be checked out from bumper to bumper.

For instance, a broken or non-functioning taillight can get your courier pulled over. In United States v. Andres,19 an officer observed a red pickup truck pulling a car trailer. The officer noticed that the trailer’s taillights were “flicker[ing] as if there was a mechanical issue.” After having the driver sign the traffic ticket, the officer asked permission to search for drugs with his dog, and the driver consented. Officers ultimately found over 20 kilograms of cocaine in a hidden compartment in the truck.20 A bad headlight can also result in a traffic stop. In State v. Williams, officers patrolling a “high crime area” at night spotted a vehicle with defective driver’s side headlight and blue accessory light.21 A subsequent search of the car found a large bottle of cough syrup containing codeine.22

Something as simple as window tint can result in a traffic stop. In Caraway v. State, a DPS trooper made a traffic stop because he believed that driver’s vehicle had illegal tint on its win­dows.23 After testing the window on the passenger’s side with a window tint meter, the officer determined that the tint was darker than the legal limit. Before writing the driver a warning, the officer asked for and received permission to search the car. He ultimately found 1,800 grams of cocaine.24 The lesson learned: Get your own window tint meter and test the vehicle before it leaves.

If your drivers are operating in Texas, make sure that the ve­hicle has a front license plate. One supplier did not and it cost him dearly. In August 2004, officers initiated a traffic stop on a Dodge Durango because it was missing its front license plate, a violation of Texas traffic laws.25 A search revealed fresh glue on the carpet, which was a different color, and tool marks on the bolts on the back seat. The car was taken to a shop, and 15 pounds of cocaine were found in a hidden compartment behind the back seat.26 And speaking of license plates, make sure the lights illuminating the plate work27 and make certain the plate is not “obstructed.”28 Both of these will give law enforcement jus­ti­fication to stop the vehicle.

Even where the officer is mistaken about the traffic violation, and even if the seized evidence is ultimately suppressed, your product is still lost. In State v. Mazuca,29 an officer saw a yellow Mustang that, in his opinion, was emitting white light from the taillights, where the statute required that they be red.30 The vehicle was stopped and the passenger was arrested on outstanding warrants, but not before the officer found approximately 400 grams of ecstasy in the passenger’s pocket. The Mustang’s owner testified at the suppression hearing that he had modified his taillights to include “some clear rear lights,” but they retained “red lights in the middle[.]”31 The trial court suppressed the seized evidence based on the fact that no traffic violation had occurred, and the El Paso Court of Appeals affirmed.32 The Court of Criminal Appeals held that the evidence should not have been suppressed because of the outstanding warrants and because of the proximity of when the officer became aware of the warrants and when the drugs were found.33 However, despite the particular outcome in the courts, the suppression of the evidence is of little comfort for a supplier because your inventory has been confiscated.

IV. Obey the Traffic Laws

TROOPER (on motorcycle): Pull over!
HARRY: No, it’s a Cardigan! But thanks for noticing!
LLOYD: Yeah. You wear boots man!
TROOPER: Pull your car to the side of the road! License and registration, please. You fellas were going kinda of fast back there wouldn’t you say?34

Assuming you have checked out the vehicle and made sure it is “tip-top,” the next step is to stress upon your driver the im­portance of obeying the traffic laws. Speeding (like Harry and Lloyd, especially in a vehicle that resembled a large, shaggy dog), failing to use a turn signal, drifting over the fog line, failing to maintain single traffic lane, or not wearing a seatbelt can all lead to a traffic stop and the potential loss of product. Even an omission as innocuous as failing to dim your headlights can end badly. In State v. McCray, the driver failed to dim the bright lights on his automobile as he passed a Longview police officer.35 The police officer flashed his bright lights, and the driver still failed to dim his lights, which resulted in a traffic stop. Tell your drivers to pay attention to what is going on around them, and your product will make it to its destination.

Then there is the difficult-to-refute allegation of following too closely. The Texas Transportation Code dictates that “[a]n operator shall, if following another vehicle, maintain an assured clear distance between the two vehicles so that . . . the operator can safely stop without colliding with the preceding ve­hi­cle. . . .”36 If law enforcement is looking for any reason to make a traffic stop, a violation of this statute could provide that reason. In United States v. Gillyard, a highway patrolman stopped two vehicles traveling eastbound on Interstate 20 between Dallas and Shreveport, Louisiana, for following too closely behind an 18-wheeler.37 The stopped vehicles were a red Chrysler Concorde, which was behind the 18-wheeler by two car lengths, and a Pontiac Grand Am that was one car length behind the Concorde. After the driver of the Concorde got out, the passenger slid into the driver’s seat and drove off. He was captured after a high-speed chase, and six bricks of powder cocaine were found in the trunk of his car.38 The moral: Tell your drivers to keep a proper distance between their vehicle and others on the road. It might also be a good idea to tell them that trying to outrun law enforcement is not a good solution either.

Turn signals, which have been available on vehicles for over 100 years, are another source of traffic stops. In 1907, Percy Douglas-Hamilton applied for a patent for a device “indicating the intended movements of vehicles.”39 Buick was the first U.S. automaker to offer factory-installed flashing turn signals in 1939.40 Although turn signals are now required for all vehicles (except antique vehicles that never had them), many drivers seem totally oblivious to their existence. This inattention to detail can be detrimental to the transportation of your merchandise. In Rodriguez v. State, officers in an unmarked car followed the defendant’s vehicle until they saw the defendant fail to use a turn signal.41 The officers contacted a nearby uniformed patrol officer and asked him to stop the vehicle for the traffic violation. After the driver gave consent to search, the patrol officer found three “brick-like objects” containing over 400 grams of cocaine.42

Just like turn signals, motorized vehicles have been equipped with speedometers for over 100 years. The Oldsmobile Runabout, released in 1901, was the first automobile line equipped with a mechanical speedometer.43 However, when it comes to monitoring speed, some drivers are just not able to pay attention, and inattentiveness leads to traffic stops and lost prod­uct. In Madden v. State,44 an officer stopped two vehicles that were traveling together for speeding. The first was traveling 61 mph and the other was traveling 63 mph in a 55 mph construction zone on Interstate 10 in Harris County.45 A subsequent search, after a K-9 unit alerted on both vehicles, revealed a Rubbermaid container filled with both dog food and a book bag with three bricks of cocaine inside.46 In hindsight, perhaps packing the drugs in dog food was not the best choice, given the use of drug-detecting dogs. Regardless, whether “Fido” alerts to the drugs or his potential supper, the merchandise will most likely be found and confiscated, a fate you are trying to avoid.

Along with failing to use turn signals, some drivers are adverse to using seat belts. On January 1, 1968, Congress required all vehicles (except buses) to be fitted with seat belts in all designated seating positions.47 Mandatory seatbelt use by front-seat passengers was instigated in Texas in 1985, and in September 2010, all passengers inside a motor vehicle had to be secured by a safety belt, regardless of age or the location of the seat.48 A driver not wearing a seatbelt can easily lead to a traffic stop and confiscated product. In United States v. Baker, two Beaumont police officers were patrolling Interstate 10 when they saw a white Dodge and noticed that the passenger was not wearing a seat belt.49 After stopping and searching the Dodge, officers found a 5.5 pound brick of marijuana.50 Therefore, an act (buckling a seat belt) that would have taken just a few seconds to complete ultimately cost a supplier his merchandise.

Finally, make certain that your drivers understand that the lines on the road are for driving between, not over. Many a load of cargo has been lost due to drivers crossing the fog line or the center line. In United States v. Escalante, 20 kilos of cocaine was seized because the driver crossed “the lane divider lines two or three times.”51 Similarly, in Johnson v. State, crack cocaine was seized where the driver of a Dodge truck failed to maintain a single lane “when its tires crossed over the center dividing line of the highway.”52 As Ricky Van Shelton said, “Keep It Between the Lines.”53

V. Behavior After Traffic Stop

CHEECH (passenger): Where’d you learn how to drive, man?
CHONG (driving): We got stopped by the cops. I don’t have a license.
CHEECH: Why didn’t you tell me that? What are we going to do?
CHONG: Change places with me. I don’t think he’s seen us.
CHEECH: No, no. Sit down.
CHONG: I’ve got my leg caught.
CHEECH: Man, like, get over, man.

Police officer arrives at vehicle window to find Cheech in the driver’s seat with Chong sitting on his lap, smiling sheepishly.54

Assuming your driver cannot transport the product without committing one of the hundreds of potential traffic violations, and he is unlucky enough to be stopped, law enforcement will most likely begin looking for behavior, such as the above furtive movements, that will perhaps give them reasonable suspicion to prolong the stop and ultimately search the vehicle. The most prevalent behavior cited by officers is nervousness by the driver and/or occupants.55 While nervousness, by itself, will not support reasonable suspicion,56 nervous behavior when coupled with other factors can lend support for continuing the detention. Below is a small sample of Fifth Circuit and Texas cases where ner­vousness, when combined with other factors, provided a reasonable suspicion for the officers to prolong the traffic stop and ultimately confiscate product.

  • Madden v. State, 242 S.W.3d 504, 516–17 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007) (nervousness was not “critical” where presence of two Florida “drug convoy” cars, diversionary tactics of one driver, overdue rental car, and inconsistent stories about where the driver had been, for how long, and why, provided sufficient reasonable suspicion to detain the driver);
  • United States v. Fishel, 467 F.3d 855, 856 (5th Cir. 2006) (when asked for consent to search vehicle, driver’s “legs seemed to fail and he had to brace himself against his vehicle; he then changed his story of ownership and said that he could not give consent to search the vehicle because it did not belong to him”);
  • But see Parker v. State, 182 S.W.3d 923, 924 (Tex. Crim. App. 2006) (“slightly nervous” driver, rental car not in driver’s name, fast food wrappers in the car but no visible luggage, and round-trip between Dallas and Houston, K-9 search—motion to suppress granted and affirmed by Court of Criminal Appeals even though driver not listed on car rental agreement as driver);
  • United States v. Brigham, 382 F.3d 500, 515 (5th Cir. 2004) (drivers not listed on rental agreement, nervous behavior (hands were shaking), lack of eye contact by individuals, and conflicting stories about their arrival time in Houston and who they had visited there supported reasonable suspicion);
  • United States v. Henry, 372 F.3d 714, 715–16 (5th Cir. 2004) (driver’s “extreme” nervous behavior, repeating officer’s questions before answering, inability to detail his travel plans, driver’s inability to explain how he knew the passengers, driver’s baggy clothes, driver’s fake iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, and passenger’s nervousness and lack of “even rudimentary knowledge about the purpose of the trip” gave officer “articulable reasonable suspicion of illegal activity”);
  • United States v. Grant, 349 F.3d 192, 198 (5th Cir. 2003) (driver “appeared nervous” and passenger “had been fumbling around in the passenger seat,” inconsistent stories about their stay in Houston, and driver’s “admission that the two men had smoked marijuana in the car created reasonable articulable suspicion”);
  • United States v. Gonzalez, 328 F.3d 755, 758 (5th Cir. 2003) (Driver “appeared very nervous, was hesitant in answering the most basic questions about his travel plans, lied about why he didn’t have a driver’s license, was 500 miles away from the road leading to his claimed destination, was on a road associated with drug trafficking, and had been arrested for drug trafficking in the past. These facts together gave rise to a reasonable articulable suspicion that Gonzalez was involved in drug trafficking.”).

On the other hand, if the driver remains calm, that fact can be used as evidence that the driver’s consent to search was freely and voluntarily given. In United States v. Brown, the defendant contended that the search of his vehicle was unconstitutional because his consent to the search was not voluntary.57 The court disagreed, citing the following items supporting a finding of voluntariness: 1) the driver was “calm and cooperative” when speaking with the officer; 2) driver gave consent approximately one minute after he exited the vehicle, thus he was not subject to “a lengthy interrogation or any coercive police tactics”; 3) officers testified that no threats, force, or intimidation were used to obtain the consent; and 4) the driver knew he could decline consent because he had done so twice before granting consent.58

In any case, if the driver is the nervous type, make certain that he or she wears a loose-fitting shirt, preferably with a high collar that will hide the neck area. As an indication of nervousness, officers are becoming more adept at seeing throbbing neck arteries or veins59 and/or hearts beating through tight shirts.60 Just recently, in United States v. Pena-Gonzalez, the Fifth Circuit found reasonable suspicion based, in part, on the officer observation of the driver’s “carotid artery visibly puls[ing].”61

If you use multiple individuals in one vehicle to transport the product, it must be stressed that they GET THEIR STORIES STRAIGHT! Where are they going? Where have they been? How long were they there? What did they do? Who did they see? Where did they stay? Who did they stay with? While inconsistent stories between a driver and a passenger may not, by itself, support a reasonable suspicion of drug trafficking,62 if the inconsistent stories are coupled with other factors, then the officer can prolong the stop, which could be detrimental to your supply chain. For instance, in United States v. Shabazz, the officers questioned the driver and passenger (Parker) individually after a traffic stop for speeding.63 The driver stated that he and Parker had been visiting Parker’s sister in Houston and they had stayed there for a week, since the Fourth of July. Parker, on the other hand, said that they had only been in Houston since the eighth, which was just two days prior to the stop.64 After the driver gave oral and written consent, the officers found 300 grams of crack cocaine and over 100 grams of powder cocaine.65

VI. Contents of the Vehicle in Plain Sight (or Plain Smell)

Law enforcement officers have cited a litany of seemingly innocuous items seen in plain sight inside a vehicle in an attempt to bolster reasonable suspicion. These items include: 1) fast food wrappers and no visible luggage;66 2) maps;67 3) two shirts hanging in the rear passenger compartment, a hygiene bag on the back seat, and the car’s clean interior;68 4) body odor emanating from the vehicle, the unkempt condition of the vehicle, and the presence of food wrappers, soda cans and cooler;69 5) multiple air fresheners, Pancho Villa and St. Jude symbols on the driver’s key chain, a large number of bumper stickers supporting law enforcement, and three rosaries hanging from the rearview mirror;70 6) multiple cell phones;71 and 7) odor of dryer sheets and mothballs.72 Therefore, keep the vehicle interior clean, take a shower, profess no religious affiliation, and go easy on the air freshener.

VII. Request to Search/Consent

As a last line of defense in protecting the merchandise, drivers should be instructed that under no circumstances are they to give consent to search the vehicle. No matter how well the merchandise might be concealed, it will be found. Hidden in the air conditioner vents? Found!73 Stashed in a secret compartment on the firewall, under the windshield? Found!74 Concealing $502,020 in a cavity behind the speakers of Freightliner tractor-trailer? Found!75 The bottom line: Consent equals lost merchandise, which is bad for business.

The typical encounter happens something like this:

OFFICER: I’m going to write you a warning for [fill-in-the-blank traffic violation].
DRIVER: Thank you.
OFFICER: By the way, we are performing a drug interdiction exercise. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?
OFFICER: Are you carrying any illegal drugs or large amounts of money in your vehicle?
OFFICER: Do you mind if I search your vehicle, or do you mind if I run my dog around your vehicle.

With a well-trained driver, which you should have done before he leaves with your product, the above scenario should happen something like this:

OFFICER: I’m going to write you a warning for [fill in the blank traffic violation].
DRIVER: Thank you.
OFFICER: By the way, we are performing a drug interdiction exercise. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?
DRIVER: Yes, I mind. Am I free to go?
OFFICER: Are you carrying any illegal drugs or large amounts of money in your vehicle?
DRIVER: No. Am I free to go?
OFFICER: Do you mind if I search your vehicle, or do you mind if I run my dog around your vehicle.
DRIVER: Yes I mind, or no you many not run your dog around my vehicle. Am I free to go?

If your driver responds in this way, it might cause the officer to think twice about prolonging the stop and searching the vehicle, and that is the result you want.

VIII. Conclusion

To sum up, to increase the odds of getting your merchandise to its final destination, follow these simple rules:

  • Make sure the vehicle is in “tip-top” condition;
  • Stress that the driver must obey ALL traffic laws;
  • Do not plaster the vehicle with bumper stickers supporting law enforcement;
  • Do not have Pancho Villa and St. Jude symbols on the driver’s key chain;
  • Do not have rosaries hanging from the rearview mirror;
  • Do not have open maps and/or fast food wrappers visible in the vehicle;
  • Do not overdo the air fresheners or dryer sheets or moth balls;
  • If stopped, the driver must not be nervous, but he should not be too calm either; he should make eye contact at all times; he should wear a loose-fitting shirt that hides his neck; he should not make any furtive movements;
  • If more than one driver is used, make sure they have their stories straight;
  • If the driver’s story includes a claim that he is on vacation, put a suitcase in the back seat; and
  • Do not give consent to search.

Following these guidelines is no guarantee that your merchandise will safely reach its destination. However, if you adhere to the suggestions contained herein, your chances of successfully getting your product to its destination should be greatly enhanced. Or, perhaps you might just want to find another way to make a living. Long prison sentences and forfeiture of property may not be worth the risk. Maybe there is a hedge fund that needs someone to sell derivatives to unsuspecting buyers. Those guys never go to prison!


1. “Drug traffickers use various types of vehicles to conceal their contraband, ranging from nondescript cars, commercial trucks, vans, and tractor-trailers to the popular minivans driven by ‘soccer moms.’” See Dept. of Justice Microbulletin, Vol. XXXVI, No. 12, December 2003, available at: (last visited Aug. 28, 2015).

2. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968).

3. See United States v. Brigham, 382 F.3d 500, 506 (5th Cir. 2004) (en banc).

4. Id.

5. See United States v. Cavitt, 550 F.3d 430, 435–436 (5th Cir. 2008).

6. See, e.g., United States v. Zamora, 661 F.3d 200, 207 (5th Cir. 2011) (missing front license plate and canceled rear license plate justified traffic stop).

7. United States v. Cavitt, supra, 550 F.3d at 436 (citing United States v. Brigham, supra, 382 F.3d at 510).

8. Id. (quoting United States v. Brigham, supra, 382 F.3d at 510).

9. Id.

10. United States v. Santiago, 310 F.3d 336, 341–342 (5th Cir. 2004) (internal citations omitted).

11. United States v. Cavitt, supra, 550 F.3d at 436 (citing United States v. Santiago, supra, 310 F.3d at 342.

12. United States v. Cavitt, supra, citing United States v. Estrada, 459 F.3d 627, 631 (5th Cir. 2006).

13. United States v. Cavitt, supra, 550 F.3d at 437–438; see also United States v. Ibarra-Sanchez, 199 F.3d 753, 758 (5th Cir. 1999); United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1, 7, 109 S.Ct. 1581, 104 L.Ed.2d 1 (1989) (“The officer, of course, must be able to articulate something more than an ‘inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or “hunch.”’”).

14. Rodriguez v. United States, ___U.S.___, 135 S.Ct. 1609, 1612, 191 L.Ed.2d 492 (2015), quoting Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U.S. 405, 125 S.Ct. 834, 160 L.Ed.2d 842 (2005).

15. Id. at 1612.

16. Id. at 1613.

17. Id. at 1616.

18. “Pulp Fiction” (Miramax 1994).

19. 703 F.3d 828 (5th Cir. 2013).

20. Id. at 831.

21. 275 S.W.3d 533, 535 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 2008, no pet.).

22. Id.

23. 255 S.W.3d 302, 305 (Tex. App.—Eastland 2008, no pet.); see also United States v. Castillo, 76 F.3d 1114, 1117 (10th Cir. 1996) (officer stopped driver for window tint violation; subsequent consent search revealed 105 pounds of marijuana and loaded .45-caliber handgun).

24. Id. at 307.

25. See United States v. Khanalizadeh, 493 F.3d 479, 481 (5th Cir. 2007).

26. Id. at 482.

27. See Guajardo v. State, 109 S.W.3d 456, 458 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003) (license-plate light on car not working justified traffic stop).

28. See United States v. Gallo, 927 F.2d 815, 817 (5th Cir. 1991) (rear license plate obstructed with mud and driver speeding justified traffic stop). An expired inspection sticker can also lead to trouble for drivers. See Myers v. State, 203 S.W.3d 873, 878 (Tex. App.—Eastland 2006, pet. ref’d); Cabrales v. State, 932 S.W.2d 653 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 1996, no pet.).

29. 375 S.W.3d 294 (Tex. Crim. App. 2012).

30. Id. at n. 3, citing Tex. Transp. Code § 547.322(d) (“A taillamp shall emit a red light plainly visible at a distance of 1,000 feet from the rear of the vehicle”).

31. Id. at 297.

32. Id. at 296. See also United States v. Lopez-Valdez, 178 F.3d 282, 284 (5th Cir. 1999), where a trooper stopped a car with a taillight that had an inch-long, rectangular-shaped piece of the taillight lens missing. Because the broken taillight under these facts did not constitute a traffic violation, the officer did not have authority to stop the vehicle. Id. at 284, citing Vicknair v. State, 751 S.W.2d 180 (Tex. Crim. App. 1986.).

33. Id. at 306–07.

34. “Dumb and Dumber” (New Line Cinema 1994).

35. 986 S.W.2d 259, 260 (Tex. App.—Texarkana 1998, pet. ref’d) abrogated on other grounds by State v. Riewe, 13 S.W.3d 408 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000). While the issue in McCray involved a DWI and not drugs, a traffic stop occured nonetheless.

36. Tex. Transp. Code Ann. § 545.062.

37. 261 F.3d 506, 508 (5th Cir. 2001).

38. Id. at 508.

39. Llewellyn Hedgbeth: “Turn, Turn, Turn: A History of the Turn Signal,” available at (last visited Aug. 28, 2015).

40. Id.

41. 232 S.W.3d 55 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007).

42. Id at 57; see also State v. Elias, 339 S.W.3d 667, 669 (Tex. Crim. App. 2011) (officers found 2000 pounds of marijuana after conducting a traffic stop of the van “[b]ecause it failed to signal a right turn from the stop”). Failing to use a turn signal does not always constitute a traffic violation. For instance, in Mahaffey v. State, 364 S.W.3d 908 (Tex. Crim. App. 2012), the evidence was suppressed due to a lack of traffic violation where the driver did not signal “when the lane in which he was driving on a laned roadway merged with the lane to his left.” In United States v. Miller, 146 F.3d 274, 279 (5th Cir. 1998), there was no traffic violation where the driver left his turn signal on while proceeding through an intersection, but did not turn left nor change lanes to the left.

43. “How Products Are Made,” available at (last visited Aug. 28, 2015).

44. 242 S.W.3d 504, 505 (Tex. Crim. App. 2007).

45. Id. at 506.

46. Id. at 506–07. In United States v. Kye Soo Lee, 898 F.2d 1034, 1035 (5th Cir. 1990), the distributor lost a Ryder truck full of counterfeit Gucci baseball caps and Louis Vuitton handbags after the driver was caught speeding.

47. Seat belt legislation in the United States, available at (last visited Aug. 28, 2015).

48. “The Evolution of Seat Belt Laws in Texas,” available at (last visited Aug. 28, 2015).

49. 47 F.3d 691 (5th Cir. 1995).

50. Id. at 691–92; see also Hutch v. State, 922 S.W.2d 166, 169 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996) (Houston police stopped vehicle because neither driver nor passenger was wearing seat belt).

51. 239 F.3d 678, 679 (5th Cir. 2001).

52. 365 S.W.3d 484, 487 (Tex. App.—Tyler 2012, no pet.).

53. Columbia, Nashville 1990.

54. “Up in Smoke” (Paramount Pictures 1978).

55. A search on Westlaw revealed that since January 1, 2000, there were approximately 320 Fifth Circuit and Texas cases involving a traffic stop where nervousness was mentioned as one factor supporting reasonable suspicion. For all states and all federal courts, the number is over 2,400.

56. Wolf v. State, 137 S.W.3d 797, 800–801 (Tex. App.—Waco 2004, no pet.) (being nervous and overly cooperative is not a basis for reasonable suspicion).

57. 567 F. App’x 272 (5th Cir. 2014) (unpublished).

58. Id. at 278–280; see also Beach v. State, No. 13-03-280-CR, 2004 WL 1834264, at *2 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 2004, pet. ref’d.) (although driver appeared calm, driver’s excessive speed (93 mph in a 65 zone) and intoxicated passenger repeatedly opening and closing the pickup door as if he was trying to throw something out supported prolonging traffic stop for K-9 search).

59. Wade v. State, 422 S.W.3d 661, 670–671 (Tex. Crim. App. 2013) (game warden noticed that the defendant was nervous and “his vein in his neck [was] beating”).

60. Meeks v. State, 692 S.W.2d 504, 507 (Tex. Crim. App. 1985) (officer observed that passenger was extremely nervous, “with a rapid heart beat visible through his tight shirt”).

61. 2015 WL 4317820, at *1 (5th Cir. 2015).

62. See United States v. Santiago, 310 F.3d 336, 338–339 (5th Cir. 2002).

63. 993 F.2d 431, 433 (5th Cir. 1993).

64. Id. at 34.

65. Id. See also Hill v. State, 135 S.W.3d 267, 268–69 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2004, pet. ref’d.) (driver’s and passenger’s inconsistent stories about buying trucks in Houston and where they had stayed the night before were factors supporting reasonable suspicion).

66. Parker v. State, supra, 182 S.W.3d at 924.

67. United States v. Sierra, 294 F. App’x 884, 892 (5th Cir. 2008) (driver refused to explain why he had maps of McAllen-Edinburg area when it was not on his expressed itinerary).

68. See United States v. Digiovanni, 650 F.3d 498 (4th Cir. 2011).

69. See United States v. Smith, 263 F.3d 571, 594 (6th Cir. 2001).

70. See United States v. Pena-Gonzalez, 2015 WL 4317820, at *1 (5th Cir. 2015).

71. See Acosta v. State, 429 S.W.3d 621, 623 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014).

72. See Moody v. State, 2009 WL 2605904, at *1 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 2009, pet. ref’d.).

73. See United States v. Shabazz, supra, 993 F.2d at 434 (Officer discovered that the screws in the front driver’s side air conditioner vent had shiny nicks on them and appeared to be loose. Upon loosening the screws, the vent fell open and a number of plastic baggies, which contained over 300 grams of crack cocaine and over 100 grams of powder cocaine, fell out.).

74. See United States v. Banuelos-Romero, 597 F.3d 763, 765 (5th Cir. 2010) (trooper noticed fresh black adhesive on windshield and saw “scarring on screws holding a plastic piece between the hood and windshield, which would have to be removed to replace the windshield”).

75. Acosta v. State, 429 S.W.3d 621, 623 (Tex. Crim. App. 2014).

Todd Duncan
Todd Duncan
Todd Duncan is a partner in the law firm of Joaquin & Duncan, LLC, in Hurst, Texas. He graduated from Texas Wesleyan School of Law and served as an Associate Editor of the Law Review. His practice consists primarily of research and writing for other attorneys on a contract basis, particularly focusing on federal sentencing mitigation, state and federal pretrial motions and briefs, and post-conviction relief. His firm publishes Sentencing Partners, a free, monthly newsletter that offers summaries of current circuit court decisions dealing with federal sentencing issues.

Todd Duncan is a partner in the law firm of Joaquin & Duncan, LLC, in Hurst, Texas. He graduated from Texas Wesleyan School of Law and served as an Associate Editor of the Law Review. His practice consists primarily of research and writing for other attorneys on a contract basis, particularly focusing on federal sentencing mitigation, state and federal pretrial motions and briefs, and post-conviction relief. His firm publishes Sentencing Partners, a free, monthly newsletter that offers summaries of current circuit court decisions dealing with federal sentencing issues.

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