Prosper Police Stop Good Drivers for Gift Cards

By Allen, Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer Kyle T. Therrian
Office Number: (972) 562-7549
24 Hr Jail Release: (214) 403-6522

Prosper News Release.pdf

Last week the Prosper Police Department engaged in traffic stops for the purpose of rewarding good drivers with $10 gift cards. The program grabbed statewide media attention and, upon hearing the story, all I could say is that it rubbed me the wrong way. At first it was just cynical intuition but after having some time to think; there are several very good reasons that this was a very bad idea.

The most glaring reason is that these stops were simply illegal/unconstitutional seizures under State and Federal law. One of our most fundamental rights and most basic principles of criminal procedure is that the police must be able to articulate some reason that a crime is being committed before they can use their authority as officers to detain a person. Despite good intentions, the law clearly describes even the briefest of traffic stops as a detention and restraint of liberty, and while there are a literally hundreds of ways to violate the transportation code, “being a good driver” has yet to be outlawed.

Most people would say, “no harm, no foul.”Certainly, reasonable people could disagree over the severity of the harm, but there is no question that the risk of foul is severe. A seemingly “good driver” could quickly be found to have red blood shot eyes and emitting distinct odor of marijuana or alcoholic beverage. Now, what began as an innocent transaction becomes a full-blown criminal investigation. Unfortunately for the State of Texas, the result of this hypothetical investigation is worthless because the bad stop makes the investigation inadmissible in court.

Surely the Prosper Police Department had a suspicion that the vast majority, perhaps even all, who were stopped would actually be confirmed “good drivers.” For these individuals, the Prosper Police simply decided that a $10 gift card and a pat on the back would be ample compensation for the unlawful detention. The disturbing part is not even the reasonableness of the price. No matter how reasonable, putting dollar amounts on our rights is a practice we should all want our government to avoid. This “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” approach to the whole operation is disconcerting to say the least.

I was surprised to see many of these same points discussed on a police website which had posted this news story. In addition to criminal procedure concerns, many officers expressed concern over officer safety and their points were well-taken. There are very few tasks performed by officers that are not inherently dangerous. Even the most ordinary traffic stop carries inherent risks. We ask officers to assume the risk to make us safe–but when an officer puts himself in harm’s way in the name of PR, it hardly seems justifiable.

*Kyle Therrian is an attorney licensed to practice in the State of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For legal advice on any case you should contact an attorney directly.

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