Racially Motivated Traffic Stops and Searches

The topic of racially motivated traffic stops has been up for debate national wide as well as in Utah, with many claiming drivers who are not of Caucasian decent are overly scrutinized while suffering through more search and seizures than other drivers.

Minorities and traffic stops

According to the Office of Justice Programs Bureau of Justice Statistics regarding traffic stops that resulted in searches, “a lower percentage of white drivers stopped by police in 2011 were searched (2%) than black (6%) or Hispanic (7%).“ While 6-7% of minorities beings searched to 2% of whites may not seem like enough of a spike to be considered excessively abnormal, it begins to raise eyebrows when one takes into account the total population of each race. In the year prior to the traffic stop statistics shared by the OJP, the 2010 census stated that:

• 72% of the U.S. population identified as being white alone;
• 28% identified as being Black, Hispanic, or another minority race.

6-7% of a lesser population of Americans being searched by police versus 2% or a larger population should be cause for concern.

Unbalanced prison population

Since research has shown that those of color or ethnic backgrounds face more scrutiny during traffic stops than whites who are the predominate race, it isn’t a surprise to know that the prison population is unbalanced rationally as well. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, a non-profit non-partisan group that organizes statistical information on incarceration rates nationwide, in Utah jails and prisons in 2010:

• there were seven times more Black inmates than Whites;
• over twice as many Hispanics to whites; and
• four times more American Indian/Alaska Natives to Whites.

These numbers are even more alarming considering Utah is predominately white (78.8% white non-Hispanic).

Racial profiling defense

If the amount of traffic stops resulting in searches and seizures was not ethnically discriminatory, there is a good chance the racial divide of those incarcerated in Utah would even out as well. For those who wish to discuss charges attained following a traffic stops and search that could have been racially driven, contact a criminal defense attorney who is impartial to racial differences.

Constitutional Rights against Unreasonable Searches Not Maintained in Cases of Mistaken Identity

The Fourth Amendment protects citizens’ Constitutional Rights against unreasonable searches, however these rights are not maintained in cases of mistaken identity.

Mistaken Identity

Photo by: Ben Tesch

Photo by: Ben Tesch

Mistakes are known to happen, and sometimes when those blunders are made by law enforcement it can result in the wrong person being arrested. One of the areas where law enforcement has been known to slip-up occasionally is with mistaken identity. Police can often confuse an innocent person with a suspect due to issues such as address typos, similar names, or matching physical description. When this occurs, it can have prolonged emotional and even criminal repercussions.

Wrong man

When cases of mistaken identity are seen as the blunders by law enforcement that they are, those officers involved may end up temporarily or permanently removed from their position in the police department. They may also face civil lawsuits brought out by those they wrongly identified. Last year an Indiana man named DeShawn Franklin was awarded a whopping $18 settlement for a case of mistaken identity that took place four years prior. During the incident in question, officers entered the home Franklin lived in with his parents and went into the high school senior’s room where he lay asleep in his bed. After the startled teenager struggled due to the frightening scene, officers then punched him several times and hit him with a Taser gun before hauling him off to jail.

Mistaken Identity

Photo by: Lil Treyco

It turned out that Franklin, who matched the police’s description of a slender African-American man with dreadlocks, was not the person authorities were looking for. The man officers were searching for was Franklin’s older brother who wasn’t present at the time.

Arrested anyway

Sometimes an arrest based on mistaken identity doesn’t end with such profitable settlements and can still result in charges for the person arrested. This can happen if the person wrongfully detained ends up having warrants, being wanted for other crimes, or if illegal contraband is found in their possession during a search. This was the case for a Utah man named Wendell Navanick, who just so happened to share a name and birth year with another Utah man who had an outstanding warrant out for his arrest. When authorities located the warrantless Wendell Navanick, they ignored the man’s statement of being the wrong guy and booked him into the Salt Lake City Jail. During the booking procedure, authorities found drugs on Navanick and charged him with possession of a controlled substance. Although it was quickly discovered that authorities had not arrested the right person, Navanick was still charged with possession related to the drugs that were found on him during the booking process.

Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. “ The United States Courts adds however, that the Fourth Amendment “is not a guarantee against all searches and seizures, but only those that are deemed unreasonable under the law.”

Unreasonable search loophole

Photo by: West Midlands Police

Photo by: West Midlands Police

When a victim of mistaken identity ends up with charges related to a search of their person or property because they were believed to be someone else, that search is not considered unconstitutional by law. In the case of the State of Utah v. Navanick, the defendant tried to claim his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated with the bookings search since it was “predicated upon an invalid arrest” however that claim for an appeal was shot down. The arrest was validated since the officers were found to have probable cause. “The only question is whether it was reasonable for the arresting officers to believe that the person arrested was the one sought.” (Gero v. Hanault). Anyone who is facing criminal charges related to a mistaken identity search is strongly urged to consult with a criminal defense attorney to ensure that all Constitutional Rights during criminal proceedings are protected.

Will a “No Trespassing” Sign Protect a Roommate from a Search Warrant?

When someone living in a shared home is served with a search warrant for their residence, another roommate may have their private room explored as well, even if a “No Trespassing” sign is posted.

State v. Boyles

Search Warrant

Photo by: Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office

When law enforcement officials began a search on the home of James Fitts who they had under investigation, they were unaware that a locked room with a “No Trespassing” sign belonged to another roommate, Evan D. Boyles. After forcing their way into the locked private room, they discovered drug paraphernalia and arrested Boyles after he stated the room was his. Boyles attempted to have the evidence suppressed in court since Fitts was the target of the search warrant, however that motion was denied.

Vague search warrant

Photo by:  Nicolas Raymond

Photo by: Nicolas Raymond

Although officers may have known which bedroom belonged to Fitts, they claimed to be unaware that the “No Trespassing” sign meant a private room. Typically, a search warrant will specify which areas of a residence can be searched and what items are being located however the search warrant obtained for Fitts’ residence allowed officers to search every inch of that property. It stated “all outbuildings, garages, sheds, vehicles, trailers, boats, locked containers, and other property contained within the property lines (. . . )” could be searched.

Protection for roommates

Photo by: Jason Taellious

Photo by: Jason Taellious

Sharing a residence with others definitely has its ups and downs. While the cost of living may be decreased with more individuals splitting the bills, there is a diminished sense of privacy that comes with the territory. Just as labeling food in a fridge is common practice among roommates, clearly labeling private bedrooms can also be helpful in the unfortunate event that a search warrant is placed on the home. Had Boyles’ room stated that it was the “private room of Evan Boyles” instead of simply “No Trespassing” officers would have to be aware it was a separate residence. A more specific sign could have made the difference in whether or not Boyles’ charges were dropped. For more information on Fourth Amendment Rights regarding search and seizures, contact a criminal defense attorney.