Cops Can Bust You for Even Minor Offenses in Texas (and Elsewhere)


Reason 24/7

In the midst of much extremely justified fuss about the abuse of official power at the federal level, don't forget that state and local officials are at least as likely to wipe certain parts of their anatomy with your civil liberties as are their counterparts in D.C. Today's example comes from Texas, where police are empowered to arrest people and haul them in, even for minor violations that aren't penalized by time behind bars.

From Watchdog.org:

In Texas, people can be arrested for just about anything. In fact, speeding is one of just two crimes that can't get you arrested; the other is having an open container.

[Don] Elmer was arrested, not for speeding but for failing to wear his seat belt.

When the judge called his case, "he just bust out laughing," Elmer said. "He was like, 'He must have really not liked you.'"

Elmer lost his job, and he had to pay to get his car out of the tow yard.

He can thank Gov. Rick Perry and the U.S. Supreme Court for the nearly unlimited power that Texas law enforcement officers have to arrest anyone, even for crimes such as busted tail lights and unsafe lane changes not punishable by jail time.

The expansive arrest powers come, in part, from a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court case, Atwater v. Lago Vista, in which America's solons of all things constitutional said it was A-OK to cuff people for such penny-ante offenses as … well … not wearing a seatbelt. Texas cops, and police elsewhere, took the decision to heart. As you might expect, such wide-ranging powers are wielded with a great deal of personal discretion. Pissing off a cop during a routine traffic stop — or any other time — can be taken as an invitation to put on the handcuffs, for instance. The threat of arrest can also be used to extract compliance.

Of course, most cops are uninterested in jailing seat-belt violators – they'd be the laughingstock of their departments if they did it often. But Texas police routinely use that arrest authority to coerce people into surrendering their Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches.

Since the 2001 ruling, Texas lawmakers have attempted, three times, to rein-in police powers even a little. Governor Rick Perry vetoed the legislation each time. 

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  1. Since the 2001 ruling, Texas lawmakers have attempted, three times, to rein-in police powers even a little. Governor Rick Perry vetoed the legislation each time.

    Too bad he remembered to veto it that third time.

    1. So FoE, how badly do think the Bruins are going beat the Pens today? Four and out…what a way to go. I think I’m going to the bar and watch it there to really savor it.

        1. I am!

          1. Get it? Because he couldn’t remember the third thing in that debate.

            1. All we get is that you follow the career of Rick Perry closely. Is that more rewarding than following the Penguins?

              1. Don’t Stop Believin.

            2. Well there you have it.

  2. Wow. I am amazed I have not been arrested. I thought you had to comit at least more than a civil infraction to get arrested.

  3. This is awful. The next time some GOP cunt-muncher brings up how the economic dynamo that is Texas should be a light unto the nation, we should bring up the countervailing fact that no one who lives in Texas has any rights. God, if I hear one more complaint about California, I’m going to stab myself in the rectum with a screwdriver. Just try me

    1. It’s okay. Rick perry can’t hurt you anymore. He lost the nomination, thankfully.

      1. Watch out! I saw on TV where at the drive-in they’d tip over your car, even if it was made out of stone.

        1. This is a very strange thing for the squirrels to have done, but so funny that I’ll just leave it.

        2. I think I saw that show.

          Was it a bunch of eco-freaks that would use animals to do the stuff of carbon spewing machinery?

          And the dad, he was a real weirdo. Drove his car with his feet.

          I remember the neighbor lady being pretty hot, though.

    2. You don’t have to worry about arrest in California, because the cops rarely bring anyone in alive.

    3. I’m going to stab myself in the rectum with a screwdriver.

      Easy there t o n y jr. Have a drink!

    4. California sucks.

      Do it.

    5. I’m going to stab myself in the rectum with a screwdriver. Just try me

      Phillips, or flat head?

      Is this you?

      1. That was hilarious. What account did he’s mother shut off? World of Warcraft? I couldn’t quite make it out.

        1. Pretty sure wow, yea.

    6. So, like I was sayin’, FUCK California.

    7. Texans have damn good property rights. Their gun rights kinda suck but not anywhere near as bad as that screwdriver-impaled shithole, California.

    8. I’m going to stab myself in the rectum with a screwdriver.

      Just make sure you film it and charge money for the video. No business opportunity wasted!

      *Flips top hat in the air, catches it jauntily on head, twirls silver topped cane and walks away whistling*

    9. deified, I agree with everything you said, but I’d still rather live in TX that CA (mostly economics). But I’m jealous of two things about your state: you can buy a bottle of bourbon in a grocery store; and you don’t have to have the state inspect your car (at least you didn’t when I lived there). And the weather, of course.

      About that screwdriver thing…it’s not as much fun as it sounds.

    10. You actually survive the haul back to the HQ, unlike in California.

      Fuck off, Cosmo.

  4. Cool, and if they arrest you they can snag that DNA swab. Isn’t that grand?

  5. Rick Perry: Champion of Small Government.

    1. Oh he his championing small government. Each individual agent of the state will be a complete government of one – can’t get any smaller than that.

  6. Well it’s good to see that my two favorite activities are ok in Texas.

  7. Well, you’ve now found something that I want to bitchslap Perry for. I’m off to Austin!

    1. There are many reasons for bitch slapping Perry, but Austin is overrated. Stick to the western hill country.

      1. Pretty sure he referred to Austin cause its the capital, you know, with the governor’s mansion.

  8. So, what was the justification used to allow arrests for “civil infractions” which most traffic laws are (instead of being actual crimes)?

    1. I can field this one.

  9. This may be the most punchable face of a totally clueless pathetic statist that I have ever seen.

    Punch it for a nickel!

    And apparently, no one reads its writing.

    1. Have you seen what Yglesias or Weigel look like?

      1. Can’t forget EJ Dionne and Robert reich.

        1. Hard to punch Reich standing up.

    2. He looks like he’s 4

    3. I don’t know, he’s pretty pathetic. I’d feel like I was punching a handicapped llama.

  10. Peasants who annoy knights find themselves locked in cages. That’s the way feudal systems work. WTF?

    1. Oh, now we see the violence inherent in the system! Help, help! I’m being repressed!

  11. Why in the hell do we have so many cops? They should be too busy actually doing something related to actual criminal activity to be wasting their time doing stupid shit. And they don’t need a dozen freakin’ guys every time they want to track down some deadbeat dad. It’s crap. If I had control over the police budget. I would be like, every time I read an article where you’re wasting time or resources doing stupid shit, I’m cutting your budget 10% until you don’t have time to do stupid shit anymore.



        1. I want to carve some ivory. And eat ribs.

  12. Clearly not enough for

  13. Clearly not enough for OFFICER SAFETY! We need to adopt the model of Japan—Edo Japan where a samurai patrolling a street could summarily behead any commoner who did not show proper deference for his position.

  14. Choketacular job for Crysby and the mighty Pens.

    The no call when he got leveled was sweet too.


  15. OT: Calling all Olbermann fans! Both of you!
    Keith says: ‘Hey, I’m available!’ ESPN says: ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you.’ Keith says: ‘Got my number?’ ESPN says: ‘We got your number when you walked in the door.’

  16. Welcome to the New Regime, clearly a POlice State!


    1. I think WomSom might actually read our posts before phishing.

      1. Hard tellin’. Turing is not yet convinced.

  17. OT: Oh for fuck’s sake… someone on Twitter called out Jesse Walker for criticizing Lind’s piece on libertarianism, an easy mark, rather than going after someone like Francis Fukuyama, author of the well-regarded Origins of Political Order.

    Behold the celebrated Fukuyama’s sophisticated argument against libertarian naivete:

    Fairfax County, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C., where I lived for many years, is one of the richest counties in the United States. Every winter, potholes appear in the county’s roads as a result of the seasonal freezing and thawing after winter storms. And yet by the end of the spring, all of those potholes get magically filled so no one has to worry about breaking an axle in one. If they don’t get filled, the residents of Fairfax County get angry and complain about the incompetence of local government; no one ever stops to think about the complex, invisible social system that makes this possible

    He doesn’t even use ROADZ! He uses road maintenance. How could that ever be achieved without the state!?

    Though what’s really pathetic is that he’s trying to explain some “complex, invisible social system” by referencing what is a pretty simple contractual arrangement. There are actual existing private roads, which are also maintained privately.

    1. I wonder if Francis is ever tired of being wrong.

    2. I have long said that the worst part of being a libertarian/an-cap/voluntaryist/etc is that the people that rule us and discredit us are fucking idiots.

      We spend years, even decades, constructing a logically rock solid political philosophy based upon non-violence and it’s useless against a half-retarded authoritarian shouting “ROADZ!1!” or “SOMALIA1!!”. That’s why I advocate propaganda and Machiavellianism, rather than reason, as a means to advance our cause.

  18. So a friend of mine says there’s a SomethingAwful thread titled “Libertarians vs. libertarians“. It’s behind a registration wall. Anyone have access and give us the salient bits?

    1. Must not be that good of a friend, or else he’d be copy and pasting juicy bits for your, and our, enjoyment.

      1. Let’s just ask the DOJ since they’re reading everything on the web all the time. Hey assholes, how about sharing the cliff notes from that thread? Since you’re not doing anything productive.

    2. SA is still around? Cracked basically stole their market (not-bright college-aged males).

      1. SA is still around? Cracked basically stole their market (not-bright college-aged males).

        I thought was basically 70% of us, the Reason Commentariat?

  19. There is an old cop saying, “You might beat the rap but you won’t beat the ride.”

    The police and other officials retaliated against the lawyer for and husband of Gail Atwater. The pleading is at http://constitution.org/abus/c…..s_F395.doc . Here is an excerpt:

    The second example of such retaliation was directed against Dr. Michael Hass, the husband of Gail Atwater, who had financed the seven civil rights cases. He had received a permit to burn trash in his yard, but when he tried to do so in compliance with the permit, a Lago Vista police officer cited him for violation of the burn ordinance, and when he objected that he had a permit, used that objection to arrest him for obstruction and assault on an officer. Those behind the arrest then used it to get his medical license suspended, so that he lost his job as a highly respected Austin physician.

    The third example was the way the Lago Vista Chief of Police went to federal District Judge Nowlin, who in turn asked the FBI to find something on which to criminally prosecute Charles Lincoln. After an agent investigated for more than two years, the worst she could come up with was a charge of “misstating” digits on Lincoln’s Social Security number on an application for a checking account at Wells Fargo Bank. The charge didn’t even offer documentary evidence of the error, only an affidavit from a federal agent …

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