AZ. Court : Racial Profiling Can Invalidate Criminal Charges

The Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that where racial profiling resulted in criminal charges, the charges can be dismissed.

This would seem like a no-brainer, but the law has been that so long as police could establish that a traffic violation occurred, their reason for making the stop was irrelevant.

Justice Andrew Hurwitz wrote in the unanimous decision that a state can neither write laws that apply only to people of certain races, nor selectively enforce the law according to race, a practice commonly referred to as racial profiling. A state can no more make 'driving while Black' a crime by means of its enforcement than it could by express law," he wrote.

The defense lawer in the case had asked the trial court to require the state pay for an expert witness to statisically review the traffic stops and determine whether a disproportionate number of minority motorists were being pulled over. The Judge refused, ruling that so long as there was a traffic violation, the intent of the officer didn't matter.

The high court did not dismiss charges because of racial profiling; it ruled that such a dismissal is possible on constitutional grounds if the racial profiling allegations are proven in court, which Phillips has not yet done.

The opinion provides guidelines for trial courts in deciding whether expert witnesses should be appointed. One other note:

Phillips also filed a class-action civil lawsuit against DPS [Department of Public Safety], accusing the agency of racial profiling. Although DPS admitted no wrongdoing, it entered into a settlement in February, promising to gather data and take measures to avoid the practice.

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    Re: AZ. Court : Racial Profiling Can Invalidate Cr (none / 0) (#1)
    by roy on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 12:58:46 PM EST
    This sounds really impractical. Statistics can (and probably will) show a pattern of profiling, but they can't address individual cases. Let's say they prove that a black man who speeds is 10 times more likely to be pulled over than a white man who speeds. That's clearly racial profiling, but it suggests that 10% of black speeders are pulled over for non-racial reasons. If you're defending Mr. Smith, who is a black man who was pulled over for speeding, how do you show that Mr. Smith was pulled over for being black? Is the 90% certainty good enough?

    Re: AZ. Court : Racial Profiling Can Invalidate Cr (none / 0) (#2)
    by Mreddieb on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 12:58:46 PM EST
    I wonder if this would apply to laws agains Gays and Gay Marriage? I know he wrote race but aren't the words Race and group interchangeable? I'm sure some lawyer type can set me straight.

    Re: AZ. Court : Racial Profiling Can Invalidate Cr (none / 0) (#3)
    by Patrick on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 12:58:46 PM EST
    I've never heard of driving while gay. Maybe you have a point. So how do you prove racial profiling? Is an officer's subjective state of mind relevant to objective violations? I mean all persons have some bias, even (gasp) cops. Is a minority now immune from proscution for traffic offenses, or any crime that stems from a stop for a traffic violation? Seems like this ruling may be a can of worms that helps no one. I don't know, time will tell.

    Patrick, They are going to use a statistical analysis of traffic citations, searches conducted, ethnicity, and a number of other factors. What will the analysis show? Well, the last time a judge in Flagstaff order the state police to turn over the records (in another set of similar cases)they destroyed the records rather than turn them over to the defense. The judge found that they had acted in bad faith and dismissed several major drug cases. I doubt they'll do that this time.

    So how do you prove racial profiling?
    Doesn't the burden of proof fall on the prosecution? I am by no means a lawyer, but I would think it would be up to the cop to prove that it WASN'T racial profiling. I have a feeling that this will just result in minorities having a slightly higher speed limit than white people do, as officers would be afraid that judges would throw out all but the most egregious traffic violations they commit.