Racial Profiling and the Criminal Justice System

Racial Profiling and the Criminal Justice System

What is racial profiling?

Racial profiling refers to the law enforcement practice of using race as a factor in deciding who is a suspicious person that should be investigated.

When is racial profiling used?

Observers believe that the practice of racial profiling has been used frequently in traffic stops. Research has shown that African-American or Hispanic drivers are more likely than Caucasian drivers to be stopped for a minor traffic violation. For example, a Department of Justice survey indicated in 1999 that the number of African-American drivers stopped was 12 percent while the number of white drivers pulled over was 10 percent. More than twice as many African-Americans and Hispanics who were stopped were also searched as compared to white drivers. There was no evidence of a crime in 90 percent of the searches. Since September 11, 2001, racial profiling may also have been used as a strategy to prevent terrorist attacks in the U.S.

Is racial profiling legal?

Racial profiling is considered illegal. While the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police can stop motorists and search their cars if they suspect drug or weapons trafficking, the U.S. Constitution prohibits selective enforcement of the law based on race. The U.S. Constitution guarantees equal protection of the law, and race cannot be used to justify unequal treatment. Police and law enforcement organizations have publicly stated that stopping and searching a person based on race or gender is unlawful.

What is being done to stop the practice of racial profiling?

Racial profiling lawsuits have been filed in several states. In Colorado, it was found that while traffic violations were given as the reason for stopping drivers, traffic citations were not given. A New Jersey court found that New Jersey State Police had enforced traffic laws in a discriminatory manner. The Department of Justice filed a federal lawsuit against New Jersey state troopers alleging a pattern of discriminatory law enforcement. A consent decree was entered in the case, which requires the police to collect traffic stop and search data.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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