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Racial Profiling and Your Constitutional Rights

Filed under FAQs, New Jersey Laws, Pennsylvania Laws, Racial Profiling on March 1, 2011

Racial Profiling by Police?Ǭ – A National Problem

Racial profiling is a widespread problem among many police departments throughout the United States. In Pennsylvania, “stop and frisk” policies have drawn intense public criticism as well as a class action lawsuit. In Pennsylvania, the practice of racial profiling is not only tolerated by police departments, but defended as being necessary. [Stop and Frisk - Racial Profiling in Pennsylvania]

New Jersey, however, has done the opposite:?Ǭ Since 2003 it has been illegal for law enforcement officials to use racial profiling as the basis for stopping people.?Ǭ If convicted of charges of racial profiling, officials can be fined $15,000 and sent to prison for up to five years. [Racial Profiling Laws in New Jersey]

Is racial profiling legal in any state??Ǭ Does racial profiling violate your constitutional rights?

Racial profiling is a violation of constitutional rights protected by federal law but some states ignore federal law.

In a 1968 ruling by the United States Supreme Court (Terry vs. Ohio), it was decided that it was not a violation of constitutional rights for police to have the following powers:

  • Law enforcement may stop citizens without probable cause to arrest, if there is a reasonable suspicion that the suspect was, is, or is about to be involved in a crime.
  • An officer may stop and frisk some one if there is reasonable suspicion that the suspect is carrying a weapon and that s/he or others are in danger of physical injury.
  • Police officers may legally seize weapons, contraband, drugs, or any illegal item found on a person during a “stop and frisk.”

One of the ways the language in Terry vs. Ohio is misunderstood is that there is nothing in the decision that specifically permits police to stop someone on the basis of race or ethnicity — that is, based on racial profiling. Terry v. Ohio expanded the discretionary rights of police officers to “stop and frisk” individuals based on reasonable suspicion, but this landmark decision also set limits on the conditions under which police could stop someone.

Police use crime statistics to support racial profiling practices, making such claims as “certain races are more likely to commit crimes, and, therefore, it is reasonable to assume they have, or are about to commit a crime.”?Ǭ For example, police departments in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey insist that Black men are most likely to kill other Black men, and Hispanic men show a higher rate of participation in violent crimes than certain Caucasian men.?Ǭ Therefore, police stop countless innocent citizens on the basis of statistics, because data shows it is reasonable that a Black or Hispanic person could statistically be more likely to be suspects than others.

The law says otherwise — being Black or Hispanic is not a cause for “reasonable suspicion.”

Free Consultation With a Civil Rights Attorney – Pennsylvania and New Jersey Civil Rights Lawyers

Racial profiling, including being stopped and harassed for “driving while black” is a violation of your constitutional rights — it is against the law no matter how the police try to defend their actions.

Although many cases end up being decided in court, and some states insist they have the right to override federal laws, never accept that the police have a right to stop you simply because of your race.

If you were injured or falsely arrested because of racial profiling, our experienced civil rights attorneys can help.?Ǭ We work hard to settle cases when it is in the best interest of our clients, but our attorneys are experienced trial lawyers who can aggressively defend your civil rights in court.

We represent victims of police abuse including racial profiling throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.?Ǭ To learn more about your civil rights and have your case evaluated, contact our civil rights law offices for a free initial consultation.?Ǭ There is no fee for you unless we win your case.

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