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Racial Profiling


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12/8/2011
James W Harwood
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The practice of racial profiling is probably as old as law enforcement.  Where once it was considered an acceptable part of police work it has more recently been recognized as a shame upon our criminal justice system.  The indignity of being pulled over for nothing more than “driving while brown” is something that no human should have to endure.  The practice is a crutch for the lazy and ignorant police officer.  While most agree that racial profiling by police officers has diminished in recent decades, many disagree to the degree that it still persists.

California law defines racial profiling as, “The practice of detaining a suspect based on a broad set of criteria which casts suspicion on an entire class of people without any individualized suspicion of the particular person being stopped.”  Officers in California are required to attend cultural and racial sensitivity training aimed at stopping racial profiling.  California law also forbids the practice of racial profiling. 

The law in California and the United States Constitution clearly forbid stopping a person for no other reason than their race.  If it is shown that an officer has done so, any evidence he collected as a result will be thrown out of court.  However, the law is less clear if the evidence will be suppressed if the officer can point to a non-racial basis for the stop.  Under the Constitution, a court must look only to whether the stop was objectively reasonable, not what was subjectively in the officer’s head.  If the court finds a non-racial reason for the stop, even if it wasn’t the officer’s actual reason, it should find the stop legal.  Also, just because California law prohibits racial profiling doesn’t mean that it creates a ground to suppress evidence.

However, an astute lawyer should still look carefully for evidence of racial profiling in every vehicle stop case.  If it can be shown that the officer disproportionately detains, arrests, or uses force on racial or cultural minorities it may show bias in your case and discredits the officer’s testimony.  The judge and jury should be allowed to hear this testimony and base their assessment of the officer accordingly. 

If you are stopped by police and investigated for driving under the influence, or any other offense, and you suspect racial discrimination, it is important to try to remain calm.  Do not argue with or resist the officer.  When first approached do not refuse to provide your identification.  If asked any additional questions, respectfully reply, “I would like to speak with an attorney before answering any questions.”  Remember:  The less you say the better.  If you are really dealing with a racist cop do you actually think you are going to talk your way out of it?  Just try to remember as many details as possible to use later.

Most importantly:  If you have been arrested for DUI and feel that you were treated unfairly it is critical that you speak with an experienced DUI attorney as soon as possible.  While your attorney cannot undo what has happened to you, he can make sure that all of your rights are protected in court.



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