Texas legislature debates limits on police search rights

| 4/18/2005

Law-enforcement officials and civil liberties groups are butting heads over a proposed bill in Texas that could give privacy back to drivers and take authority away from the police.

The bill, SB 1195, would stop police from performing consent searches without probable cause. The author of the bill, Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-Mission, told the San Antonio Express-News that the current law encourages racial profiling and intimidation of drivers.

“It is happening a lot all over Texas because people do not know they have the right to refuse, or because they are intimidated and threatened with arrest,” Hinojosa told the Express-News. He added that officers shouldn’t be allowed to ask drivers for search consent where probable cause doesn’t exist, because the resulting search should be illegal anyway.

Opponents of the bill say the measure would limit officers’ reach in cases where it could be beneficial. However, Texas Municipal Police Association representative Tom Gaylor said that “the vast majority of the time, we found nothing” that would lead to an arrest, the Express-News reported.

“A good police officer never stops asking questions, and no, the sky is not going to fall (if the bill passes), but we will lose a good tool that helps us do our job,” San Antonio Police Lt. Rosalinda Vasquez told the state Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee.

The committee has so far not taken action on the bill.