Discrimination by Law Enforcement Officers During Traffic Stops

The most common reason for an individual to come into contact with the police is being a driver in a traffic stop. Racial disparities in traffic stops are an all too common occurrence, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics states that Black drivers are pulled over at much higher rates than their white or Hispanic counterparts. White drivers are also ticketed and searched at lower rates than Black or Hispanic drivers.

There are federal laws that address police misconduct, and these laws include both criminal and civil statutes. They cover the actions of State or local officers, as well as Federal officers, and are in place to protect all people in the United States, regardless of their citizenship status. If you believe that your civil rights were violated due to discrimination by law enforcement officers during a traffic stop, the experienced team at McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt can help you investigate and prove your case in the courts. 

How Often Does Racial Profiling Occur During a Traffic Stop?

This is a complex question with no concrete answer. We can look at several studies that have compiled data showing:

  • Black and Hispanic individuals are more likely not only to encounter the police, but to have multiple encounters with police, particularly during traffic stops
  • Police are twice as likely to threaten or use force against Black or Hispanic individuals than white individuals 
  • Police stop and search Black and Hispanic drivers with less evidence than when stopping white drivers
  • White drivers are searched less often, but are more likely to be found with illegal items

What Laws Prohibit Discrimination During a Traffic Stop?

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 along with the Office of Justice Programs Program statute prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, and religion by State or local law enforcement agencies that receive any financial assistance from the Department of Justice, as well as prohibiting individual occurrences or patterns of discriminatory misconduct. This includes discriminatory arrests, traffic stops, or use of force, as well as the use of racial slurs or retaliation for filing a complaint. 

The fourth amendment states that the police cannot detain an individual without probable cause or reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. However, there are instances where the police use a traffic stop as a pretext to start looking for evidence of criminal activity, and this type of tactic is disproportionately used against Black and Hispanic individuals. 

Can I Sue the Police Department for Violating My Rights?

Bringing a lawsuit against a police department can seem like an overwhelming task. Police officers may be immune from being sued or criminally charged in state courts in many cases. However, this does not mean they cannot be sued in a Federal civil suit if someone’s constitutional rights were violated. Federal law 42 US § 1983 allows any individual to sue a police officer or government official who has violated that person’s civil rights. These are commonly known as “Section 1983 lawsuits”

There are several key differences between civil and criminal cases:

  • Criminal cases are handled and investigated separately from civil cases, even if both of them concern the same incident 
  • Criminal cases require that proof be established “beyond a reasonable doubt” 
  • Civil cases only require that there be a “preponderance of the evidence” 
  • Criminal cases will seek to punish the wrongdoer via fines or imprisonment
  • Civil cases focus on correcting policies or procedures that caused the incident 

What Should You Do if You Faced Discrimination During a Traffic Stop?

The thought of bringing a lawsuit against a police officer or department is daunting, and the thought of going through the hoops of the legal system after already enduring a potentially traumatic encounter with a law enforcement officer is not an easy one. Our team can help you determine if you have a case with a free consultation, and are here to help guide you through the entire legal process. 

The lawyers at McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt are committed to obtaining justice for victims of discriminatory police encounters and their families, and have the experience and track record to deliver proven results. Our team of experienced attorneys includes S. Lee Merritt Esq., who was named one of the nation’s top activist attorneys by the National Bar Association and runs a national practice focusing on victims of police brutality and hate crimes. Contact our team today for a free and confidential consultation by filling out our form or by calling 1-866-869-5318.