Racial Profiling and California DUIs

Racial profiling is stopping, frisking, or arresting a person solely because of their race, ethnicity or nationality. It is illegal and a DUI arrest that begins with racial profiling may not stand up in court.

Racial profiling is a reality in California. Any person of color who lives in East Los Angeles or South Central LA is likely to have experienced the uncomfortable feeling of being pulled over for “driving while black” (or brown). In many cases the police end these stops by simply letting you go. But if the illegal, racially motivated traffic stop leads to evidence of a crime—such as DUI—then you could end up in jail. If this happens, you should know that the law is on your side.

The practice of stopping, detaining, searching or arresting someone based on race is a violation of your Constitutional rights. It is also illegal under California Penal Code 13519.4. Racial profiling includes stopping someone based on their race, ethnicity or nationality—or other factors such as gender, gender expression, mental health and so on. This can also include religious discrimination, such as when police stop a Muslim woman wearing a hijab or a Jewish man wearing a kippah. Racial profiling is most commonly experienced by African Americans, people of Latino heritage, and people of Middle Eastern background.

What counts as racial profiling in a Los Angeles DUI case?

Police are allowed to use race in the description of a suspect from a real crime, and they can pull over people who match that description. But they are not allowed to pull people just because of race. That makes a fine line between what’s legal and what’s not. The best way to show the difference is with examples:

  • Racial Profiling:
    Ernest is a black man who drives a nice car. He happens to be in a predominantly white neighborhood meeting some friends for drinks. After seeing his friends, he gets back in his car to run some errands. Police see a black man in a nice car driving in a white neighborhood, and they decide to pull him over. They may have done this out of outright prejudice—assuming that a black man can’t own a nice car, for example—or they may have had unconscious bias. Either way, it’s racial profiling. If they find out he was drinking and then arrest him for DUI, the charges may not stick.
  • Not Racial Profiling:
    Police have received reports of a drug dealer in the neighborhood. There are several concerned residents who saw a man selling something out of his car window. They describe the man as African American, with a “fro” style haircut, driving an expensive blue Cadillac. Police then see Ernest drive by in a similar blue Cadillac. He matches the suspect’s description, so they pull him over. They quickly see that he does not wear his hair like the suspect does, and they would normally let him go—except that they smell alcohol on his breath. They conduct a short investigation and arrest him for DUI. The police had a valid reason to pull Ernest over (even though it was not DUI related), and it is not racial profiling.

One of the most common situations for claims of racial profiling in DUI come from roadblocks or “DUI checkpoints.” By law, officers conducting the checkpoints must stop every driver equally. If traffic is backing up too much to talk to each individual driver, they must use an impartial system—for example, every third driver or every fourth driver. If police single you out at a checkpoint because of race, while waving other drivers through, it is illegal.

If I was racially profiled, how does that affect my DUI?

If you believe you were stopped because of your race, it may invalidate the DUI arrest or it may invalidate the evidence against you. This is because police are required to have a “reasonable suspicion” that a crime was committed, or that someone is in danger, in order to make a traffic stop. When they stop you for an illegal reason, like race, it taints the entire case—they wouldn’t have gathered any of the evidence against you if they hadn’t broken the law, so none of it should be allowed in your case.

If there is a basis for racial profiling in your DUI case, your lawyer will file a motion to suppress the evidence. This prevents the prosecution from using any of the “tainted” evidence to prosecute you. In many cases this will ultimately lead to the DUI charge being dismissed. You could win your case because of the officers’ implicit racism, and if you experienced any losses or damages because of the arrest, you could also have a basis for a lawsuit.

Have you been charged with DUI? We can connect you with an experienced Los Angeles DUI lawyer and get you a FREE consultation. Fill out the form to the right or call (310) 896-2724 and get your free consultation today.


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