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Could racial profiling affect Texas traffic stops?

On Behalf of | Aug 18, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

A traffic stop in Texas can have serious effects on your life, especially if you are facing DUI or drug possession charges after a search. However, there are serious concerns about the legitimacy of some traffic stops in the state, especially those carried out by state troopers. In Austin, over 80% of those charged by state troopers since they began their contract with the city have been people of color, raising worries about the effect of racial profiling on drivers in the community.

Reasonable suspicion and racial profiling

Police need a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed in order to pull drivers over for a traffic stop, outside of standardized DWI checkpoints. While this is a lower standard than probable cause, it still requires a reasonable basis for a suspicion of driving while intoxicated or other illegal activity. Race and skin color are not legal or proper reasons for police to pull over cars. However, for decades, people of color, especially Black and Latino motorists, have reported that they and other members of their community are targeted for extra unjust traffic stops by police. A criminal defense strategy could be to challenge an unlawful stop to get charges against a target thrown out.

Austin statistics could point to disproportionate enforcement

The agreement between state troopers and the city of Austin came to an end in July 2023 after an incident in which a trooper was accused of pointing a gun at a child and his father during a traffic stop. However, the state government did not withdraw troopers and instead sent more to the area. Reports based on arrest statistics indicate that 82% of charges filed by state troopers were against Black and Latino people, compared to 69% by local police. Together, Black people and Latinos make up 41% of the population.

Community activists and criminal justice reform advocates have warned that these statistics could indicate that drivers are being subjected to unlawful racial profiling. Charges filed as a result could have ongoing impacts, especially if the person stopped pleads guilty or is convicted. They say that challenging racial profiling is important to ensuring that traffic stops protect the law, rather than projecting racial discrimination.