“Use Common Sense”: Defense Attorney, Former Cop on Traffic Stops

A Texas Department of Public Safety dash camera video of Sandra Bland's traffic stop and subsequent arrest has raised doubts over whether DPS Trooper Brian Encinia was in the right.

The video has also raised questions, for some, about what rights Bland – and other Texas drivers – have during a traffic stop.

"What I've noticed, both as a police officer and a criminal defense lawyer, is that people believe that whatever the police ask them to do, that they have to do it," said Curtis Fortinberry, a Fort Worth attorney who previously served as a Fort Worth Police Officer for 13 years. "Which is just not true."

The first, and only, thing a driver must do during a traffic stop is provide identification and proof of insurance, Fortinberry told NBCDFW.

"If you're stopped by a police officer, you absolutely have to identify yourself," said Fortinberry.

After that initial interaction, a driver is well within his or her rights to remain silent and to refuse to answer any subsequent questions the law enforcement officer asks.

In addition, a driver or passenger is under no obligation to exit the vehicle, even if an officer tells them to, unless the officer provides a specific reason why they must do so, Fortinberry said.

However, Fortinberry emphasized that his best advice for people is to use common sense.

"Just because you have the right doesn't mean you always need to exercise it," Fortinberry said. "The more polite you are to the officer then the quicker it's gonna go."

In addition, Fortinberry advised that people should generally comply with reasonable requests from police, even if they believe they are in the right and the officer is going too far.

"Unfortunately for people, even if they're absolutely correct in what they've done, and they're charged with some goofy thing that the officer thought up and they win at trial, I don't give refunds,” Fortinberry said, with a chuckle. "We had a saying in the police department – 'You may beat the rap, but you're not gonna beat the ride.' So in the end you may go to jail, and they may drop whatever charge he's added, but you also spent the night in jail."

Some who have viewed the DPS video of Sandra Bland's traffic stop have questioned whether the trooper was within his right to ask Bland to put out her cigarette.

It is Fortinberry's opinion that Bland was under no obligation to comply, because the trooper had returned to Bland's vehicle to issue a written warning.

"Then it's over. That detention is over. And the courts have all ruled at that point in time the citizen has no obligation to do anything regarding anything that the police officer says," Fortinberry said.

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