Atwater v. City of Lago Vista

April 1, 2001 • Legal Briefs

Gail Atwater was pulled over for failing to wear a seatbelt and failing to ensure that her two children were also wearing seatbelts. According to Texas law, not wearing a seatbelt constitutes a misdemeanor crime, then punishable by a fine of $50. After being pulled over, however, Atwater was unable to produce her driver’s license and proof of insurance, claiming that both had been stolen days earlier. Atwater was handcuffed and taken to a police station, where she was placed in a jail cell for an hour before being released. Atwater and her husband filed a lawsuit, claiming that her Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures was violated. Cato’s brief supports Atwater’s claim, arguing that the Court should rely on the common law principles central to the Fourth Amendment, namely recognizing the prohibition on warrantless arrests for minor offenses not involving a breach of peace.

About the Authors
Tim Lynch
Adjunct Scholar and Former Director, Project on Criminal Justice