Citation. Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, 533 U.S. 924, 2001 U.S. LEXIS 4515, 121 S. Ct. 2540, 150 L. Ed. 2d 709, 69 U.S.L.W. 3780 (U.S. June 18, 2001)
Brief Fact Summary. A mother was taken into custody for violation of Texas’ strict seatbelt law. She subsequently sued for Fourth Amendment violations. Facts.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. “The standard of probable cause ‘applies to all arrests, without the need to balance the interests and circumstances involved in particular situations."”
Tex. Tran. Code Ann. Section: 545.413(a) (1999) requires that any passenger in the front seat wear a seatbelt, and Section: 545.413(b) requires any small child riding in the front to be secure. Petitioner Gail Atwater [“the petitioner”] was driving with her two small children, none of whom were wearing seatbelts. They were stopped by a police officer who observed that they were not wearing seatbelts. According to the respondent, the officer was aggressive with her. She was arrested, had her mug shot taken, and placed in jail for one hour. Issue.
“[W]hether the Fourth Amendment forbids a warrantless arrest for a minor criminal offense, such as a misdemeanor seatbelt violation punishable only by a fine.”