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NCJ Number: 206795 Find in a Library
Title: Unlawful Motives and Race-Based Arrest for Minor Offenses
Journal: Justice Policy Journal  Volume:1  Issue:2  Dated:Spring 2003  Pages:3-17
Author(s): Christopher Cooper
Date Published: 2003
Page Count: 18
Document: PDF
Type: Legislation/Policy Analysis
Format: Document (Online)
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This article examines how two United States Supreme Court decisions enable police officers to exercise racial profiling in their police practices, particularly traffic stops.
Abstract: Through a legal and sociological analysis, the author illustrates how the decisions in Whren v. United States (1996) and Atwater v. City of Lago Vista (2001) have allowed police officers to police individuals differently based on their race. Racially discriminatory policing is defined as a problem involving interpersonal conflict between White police officers and people of color. Racial profiling is one type of racially discriminatory policing, although there is argument about whether racial profiling exists. Those who do believe it exists struggle for reform against a United States Supreme Court that seems determined to allow officers to employ racially discriminatory policing practices with ease. It is necessary to challenge two United States Supreme Court decisions in order to halt racial profiling: (1) Whren v. United States (1996), and (2) Atwater v. City of Lago Vista. The Whren decision sidestepped the issue of racism altogether by asserting that the subjective opinions of the officer were irrelevant in the decision to make a traffic stop if the traffic stop was conducted with probable cause. In so ruling, the Court held that racism is not one of the reasons a court should find that evidence is not admissible. The Atwater case strengthened the Whren case by affirming that the subjective state of mind of the officer is not of concern as long as the initial police action was taken with probable cause. Some of the important issues raised by these decisions include the issue of police having too much discretionary power on traffic stops and the epidemic of pointless custodial arrests in minority communities. Local jurisdictions should not wait for the United States Supreme Court to overturn its decisions, but rather should take the initiative to limit the arrest powers of their own officers.
Main Term(s): Racial discrimination; Traffic law enforcement
Index Term(s): Police-minority relations; Profiling; US Supreme Court decisions
Note: Downloaded September 9, 2004.
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