Can a Police Officer’s Bias Make Them More Likely to Charge You with a DWI?

Can a Police Officer’s Bias Make Them More Likely to Charge You with a DWI? Everyone has their biases; even police officers. In theory, the police should judge everyone the same – no matter what type of car they drive, where they drive, or who is in the car. In reality, if you’re driving a bright red fancy sports car in the fast lane, even if you’re going the speed limit, you’re more likely to be observed by law enforcement than if you’re driving a grey sports sedan in the slow lane.

Why was I pulled over for DWI?

In Killeen and Copperas Cove, as well as across Texas, a police officer cannot pull drivers off the road at random for a DWI. The officer has to have a reasonable suspicion that you were operating a vehicle while intoxicated in order to stop you. They cannot arrest you unless they have probable cause to believe you violated the state’s DWI laws.

At Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm, we assert every available defense on your behalf if you are charged with driving while intoxicated. One of those defenses can include questioning whether an officer’s bias (as opposed to a reasonable suspicion or probable cause) was the reason for the stop and the arrest.

A police officer’s biases could come into play in several ways. The bias could include observing you drive versus looking at other drivers. The bias could include deciding to pull you over specifically, as compared to other drivers and other cars. Some officers, once they see you, may decide to let you off with a warning, while other officers may decide to ask you to get out of the car so they can give you a breath test.

There could be a bias in how they give you the field sobriety tests or administer any breath tests. An objective police officer should clearly explain how each test works and the consequences for failing the test or not taking the test. A biased officer, however, may not and be on the alert for any misstep.

Another type of bias includes assuming you’re guilty (a confirmation bias) before the officer has fully examined all the evidence. For example, if the officer checks your driver’s license and discovers you have a prior DWI, they may double-down on trying to find evidence that you are currently driving while intoxicated.

The officer may focus on negative signs, such as anxiety, as a sign of intoxication even though anyone who is stopped by the police is likely to be nervous. An officer with a confirmation bias could use a simple eye twitch as evidence of a DWI, when the twitch is a medication side effect. Or, the officer may purposely ignore other reasons for your driving actions; perhaps you had swerved to avoid debris in the road.

Our Central Texas DWI lawyers are skilled at cross-examining police officers to determine if they had any type of bias. In addition to questioning the witness, we may introduce footage or videos that confirm the bias. If we suspect bias on a broad scale, we’ll seek a full investigation.

How does implicit bias work?

According to Police Chief Magazine, implicit bias (in all types of criminal cases) is defined as, “the unconscious, unknowing differential treatment of another person based on a number of discriminatory factors, including but not limited to race, color, age, sex, gender, nationality, disability, and religion.”

These factors are the same factors that are used in analyzing discrimination based on the US Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI). However, implicit bias isn’t limited to just these.

“The theory of implicit bias is rooted in the field of cognitive psychology in which it is best explained as a dual-process function, broken down into system 1 processes and system 2 processes. System 1 is described as an automatic, intuitive thought process that is heuristically based, whereas system 2 is a product of reflection—using deduction and rule application.

In layman’s terms, a system 1 reaction is a flash reaction to a stimulus based on pre-known ideas or experiences, a sort of shortcut in forming a thought. A system 2 reaction is the conscious response to the initial bias experienced in system 1.

For system 1, these pre-known ideas or experiences (referred to as heuristics in the cognitive psychology field) are not necessarily correct or an accurate perception of the actual stimulus; however, these heuristics guide many common daily thought processes to simplify cognitive effort.

According to experts, system 1 (intuitive judgment) can only become system 2 (express judgment) after going through the system 2 process.

The ultimate point of this discussion is that police officers, like other people, have inherent flash reactions that often are not accurate. So, a police officer who is deciding whether to stop or arrest you is likely to base their initial evaluation on unreliable flash reactions. When compounded with a confirmation bias (the need to confirm the officer’s initial unreliable flash reaction), many DWI arrests are inherently biased and inherently suspect.

At Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm, our Killeen and Copperas Cove DWI lawyers have the experience and resources to assert the strongest defenses possible when you are arrested. We work aggressively to have the drunk driving charge dismissed, to obtain plea reductions to lesser offenses, and to obtain acquittals in court. We’re skilled at questioning police officers. If you’ve been arrested for DWI, you need a seasoned criminal defense lawyer on your side. To discuss your rights and defenses, please fill out our contact form to schedule a consultation. Our attorneys represent defendants in Killeen, Copperas Cove, Temple, Belmont, and Coryell and Bell Counties.