In an ideal world, the police would only pull over people on suspicion of DUI based on swerving, the inability to stay in a lane or other common signs of impairment. Unfortunately, the world is not ideal. Numerous studies have shown that people of color are far more likely to be pulled over than those who are white.
Racial profiling by police is a source of enormous frustration to people of color in the U.S. Sadly, this deeply embedded racism causes hundreds of people to be wrongfully accused and arrested for DUI every year. The consequences of being convicted are severe. Loss of driving privileges, sizable fines and jail time may be only the beginning. Some people have lost their jobs as a result of drunk driving charges, which puts them at risk of losing their home and being unable to support their family.
Understanding more about what racial profiling is and how it could affect a DUI case may be crucial to defending yourself in court. Of course, anyone who is charged with a DUI should solicit the advice of legal counsel, whether they believe that racial profiling played a role in their arrest or not.
Racial profiling is the practice of singling out a person based upon their race. It is founded on the assumption that a member of a certain race is more likely to be engaged in criminal activity, which in this case would be driving under the influence. Racial profiling by law enforcement members is not a case of a few isolated incidents. In fact, several academic studies have suggested that disproportionately large percentages of black, Hispanic and middle eastern appearing individuals are stopped, searched and arrested by police when compared with the number of white people who may be detained by law enforcement.
Segments of the population will describe their crime as “driving while black” or “driving while Hispanic.” Some police officers make a deliberate decision to target people based on their race or the color of their skin. For others, it’s a subconscious choice that they may not even be aware of. Either way, it is wholly unfair and a breach of the <a href=”https://duiwise.com/dui-news/failure-to-mirandize/”>individual’s basic rights</a>.
Most states have laws that protect people from racial profiling. The practice also violates Constitutional law. The Fourth Amendment provides everyone with freedom from unreasonable search and seizure while the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees equal treatment under the law without regard to race, ethnicity or skin color. Racial profiling violates both of these protections.
For obvious reasons, the police are not allowed to pull over drivers because they are black or clearly belong to another race. Instead, the law requires them to hold a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, namely, driving under the influence, and to be able to support their position using facts that they can specifically articulate.
Accordingly, an officer would be within their rights to pull over a driver that they see tailgating and making erratic lane changes. They would be abusing their power if they pulled over a driver who had done nothing wrong, but was black and driving in the general vicinity of a bar.
As an example, consider the case of a 64-year-old retired firefighter named Jesse Thornton in Arizona. His wife worked nights as a nurse, so he adopted a nocturnal lifestyle to keep similar hours. This meant that he often ran errands and went to the gym at night. He was on his way home from the gym late one evening when he saw police lights in his rearview mirror. The officer informed him that he could tell Thornton was drunk simply by seeing his red eyes.
Thornton’s workout that night had involved a swim, which had irritated his eyes. He informed the officer of that fact, but he was forced to get out of his car to complete field sobriety testing. With bad knees and a hip that would be replaced in two days’ time, Thornton did not perform well on the tests. He was arrested and taken to police headquarters.
Thornton submitted to a Breathalyzer test that backed up his assertion that he had not been drinking that evening. An expert at recognizing the signs of impairment who was at headquarters that night observed that Thornton showed no signs of impairment. Still, his car was impounded, his license was suspended and his wife had to leave work to retrieve him from the police station.
Eventually, the police department dropped the DUI charges, but Thornton has already filed a lawsuit against the city where the incident occurred and may sue the police department for discrimination as well.
Thornton was fortunate that his Breathalyzer test showed that he had no alcohol in his system. This was likely instrumental in the police dropping the charges against him. Others are not so lucky. In a misguided effort to prove that there was no racial profiling, some police departments and prosecutors will persist in the charges, even if they have little or no evidence to back up their claims.
Racial profiling is a very real phenomenon in the U.S. If you are the member of a minority group and were arrested for drunk driving, then your situation may be improved by a demonstration of racial bias on the part of law enforcement.
Proving racial profiling in a court of law is rarely easy. Often, the outcome of a case will rest on a small detail or technicality that most people might not notice. The situation is different for an experienced DUI defense lawyer who is trained to look at their client’s circumstances from every possible perspective.
Alleging racial profiling in a DUI case is not always enough to get the charges completely dismissed. Nonetheless, it can be an effective tool for improving your position. That is especially true if other circumstances, such as the results of a Breathalyzer test, can be called into doubt. Working with an experienced DUI attorney may be the key to having your charges reduced or dropped.