The Perfect Pretext for Illegally Stopping People: Unconfirmed Insurance
What is Community Caretaking?
Courts are to weigh the circumstances to determine if a stop or intervention by law enforcement is justified. Seeing your DWI video may be important to determine what the officer saw.
Constitutional considerations of ‘unconfirmed insurance’
The Declaration of Independence states, “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” The colonists despised the British abuses of power. As a result, they added the Bill of Rights to the Constitution to protect our citizens from such abuses, including the government seizing and invading at will without due process. The legal process mandates that when violations of law occur, we throw out the evidence resulting from the violation. This means, at times the “guilty” go free. This is necessary to ensure protection for all. It was Ben Franklin who said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
What is the problem with ‘unconfirmed insurance?’ What is it?
The problem with “unconfirmed insurance stops” is that there is no proof. An officer can allege that the sole basis for the stop was that their computer system showed a motorist’s insurance to be “unconfirmed.” These systems, however, can be unreliable. For example, an insurance company’s database might not contain recent updates. This is so problematic that in Texas DPS’s July 2004 newsletter[ii] , they warn officers, “It is important to note that DPS does not believe the law allows the database to be used for probable cause in stopping a vehicle. The vehicle would first have to be pulled over for a separate traffic violation”.
The Court in Contreras[iii] ruled that standing alone, an insurance check of ‘unconfirmed’ would not provide reasonable suspicion for a stop. There must be some foundation for the conclusion of unconfirmed insurance to justify a stop. Evidence that clarifies the ambiguity of an ‘unconfirmed’ return, such as the definition of unconfirmed, the source of the information in the system, or showing the accuracy and timeliness of the system, must first be presented to justify the stop. It is important that Courts continue to recognize that allowing the police to stop a vehicle on alleged “unconfirmed insurance” is carte blanche for lawless DWI stops. We should not tolerate this.
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[i] Wright v State, 7 S.W.3d 148 (Tex. Ct. Crim.App. 1999)
[ii] TexasSure Cracks Down on Insurance Violaters, The Chaparral, July 2004, pp. 1, 4.
[iii] Contraras v. State, 309 S.W.3d 168, 172-3 (Tex. App.-Amarillo 2010, pet. ref’d)