Conflicting Stories and Reasonable Suspicion Lead to Drug Arrests in Texas

I was talking to some people a few days ago who’d each been stopped for speeding on their way to our common destination- a gathering in the Davis Mountains of far west Texas. Some got tickets, some did not. But since I was the lawyer in the group, everybody wanted to tell me about their experience. As is often the case, I learned more than they did.

The Texas state trooper who’d stopped them had asked the driver where he was going. Then either he or his partner went around to the other side of the vehicle and asked the passenger in the back seat the same question. Why did they do that?, I was asked. He’s looking for conflicting stories, I replied. A different answer would have led to a few more questions,the answers to which might have led to a “step out of the car, please.’, and a subsequent search of the car.

Different answers, together with “nervous” behavior, might lead to a “reasonable suspicion” as the courts say, for the trooper to ask for permission to search the vehicle for drugs or other contraband. In the border country of west Texas, there is a lot of drug trafficking; this adds another item to the scale used by the courts to weigh officer’s testimony in such cases.

In my experience over the years, I have learned that cops are not very creative. The courts require a “reasonable articulation” of the facts and circumstances leading up to the search of a vehicle and the arrest of its occupant. Thus, I begin to observe what I call a trend of circumstances: lately, it is conflicting stories-before that, it was masking odors, such as perfume,(a sweet smelling driver was a dirty driver!) and, my favorite, the Bible in the front seat.

What, you say? A Bible? Yes, there was short period when troopers or Drug Task Force cops argued that the presence of religious paraphernalia was a sign that narcotics paraphernalia was somewhere present. The Bible was meant to deflect the trooper’s suspicion of the presence of drugs.

The courts knocked that one down, but other criteria arise out of the ashes of the last shot-down articulation, and will continue to evolve as long as there are cops who copy each other’s reports just as they copied each other’s papers in school.