Police are to be given sweeping powers to arrest people for every offence, including dropping litter, failure to wear a seat belt and other minor misdemeanours.Here's the Texas connection: In January 2001, the US Supreme Court made some bad law in a Texas case called Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, ruling that it was constitutional to arrest anyone for any offense -- in that case a suburban Mom bringing her kid home from soccer practice, arrested for a seat belt violation. So long as that law stands, I've argued on Grits and at the Lege, it's laughable to claim that anyone "consents" voluntarily to searches by police officers. As I've described the problem previously:
The measures, which come into force on Jan 1, are the biggest expansion in decades of police powers to deprive people of their liberty.
At present, officers can generally arrest people if they suspect them of committing an offence which carries at least five years in prison. They will now have the discretion to detain someone if they suspect any offence and think that an arrest is "necessary".
In Texas, the US Supreme Court upheld our law in Atwater v. City of Lago Vista allowing arrests for "Class C" misdemeanors, which are misdemeanors for which the only punishment is a fine, not incarceration.That Texas case became US law the same month President Bush was inaugurated, and in my own mind, unfairly perhaps, I've always associated Texas' exporting Governor Bush to the national stage with this particular authoritarian judicial ruling made national dicta just days before his ascension to the presidency. At the least, let's say I considered it an ill omen, one the British now share.
Months after the Supreme Court ruled such arrests were legal, the Texas Legislature passed a law banning them, but Texas Governor Rick Perry vetoed the bill, and has pledged to veto it again in the future as a sop to the state's largest police union.
After Atwater, and thanks to Governor Perry, if a driver says "no" to a request for a so-called "consent search," the traffic offense that was the pretext for pulling the driver over can magically become an offense that necessitates the driver's arrest, after which they will be required by law to search the car as part of an "inventory search." After this scenario is explained to a driver, who would rationally refuse a search?
So to any English readers out there, let me fill you in on what you're in for, since we've been living with this situation in Texas for awhile now: Soon your local jails will be completely full of low-level arrestees at a huge cost to the taxpayers and with little benefit to public safety.
Welcome to the Texas criminal justice model. Enjoy.