When Your Only Real Offense Is ‘Driving While Black’

On behalf of Michael A. Gottlieb, P.A. posted in felonies on Wednesday, June 19, 2019.

In order to pull over a car to look for a drunk or drugged driver, an officer has to have something known as probable cause.

In other words, there has to be a valid reason for the authorities to stop your car in the first place. They can’t just randomly stop a car whenever they feel like it (although drunk driving checkpoints are another matter entirely). They also can’t just randomly decide who to check for drunk driving or who might be carrying drugs in their vehicle or committing some other sort of crime.

Well, there’s good and bad news. The good news: Police aren’t just randomly stopping vehicles. The bad news: The police tend to target black motorists far more heavily than others for traffic stops — which often lead to other things, like car searches for drugs or weapons and drunk driving investigations.

Most African Americans are familiar with the term “driving while black,” and many have experienced the prejudice of law enforcement toward people of color firsthand. If that’s been your experience, you may feel some vindication knowing that it isn’t at all in your imagination.

A massive study that looked at data from about 100 million traffic stops between 2011 and 2017 in 21 states (including Florida) determined that black drivers are 20% more likely to be stopped than white drivers. The disparity dropped after dark — when the glare of the traffic lights and the reflection from car windows made it harder to tell who was black and who was white behind the wheel of any given car — further bolstering the evidence that police target black drivers.

In addition, vehicles driven by black drivers were searched up to twice as often as cars driven by white drivers. While the study is said to have “revealed evidence of widespread discrimination,” it’s hardly news to many black people.

If you were arrested and charged with a crime after what you believe was an illegal stop based on your race, there are defenses available. Talk to an experienced attorney today.

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