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.

Police Use of Radar Guns to Detect Texting and Driving

Radar guns have been used by police since 1949 to catch speeding drivers and are now being developed to also detect those texting and driving.

Distracted driving

Photo by: Intel Free Press

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving is dangerous, claiming 3,477 lives in 2015 alone [and] 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. ( . . . ) [T]exting is the most alarming distraction. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.” The NHTSA also announced that “During daylight hours, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving. With smart phones offering consumers communication, shopping, entertainment and so much more on the go, it is hard to not look at our phones- even on short trips in the car. Ignoring the sound of a notification or delaying the sending of a quick message to a friend takes a lot of willpower to avoid.

Texting and driving

Many individuals that text and drive can appear to do so stealthily, often without being noticed by other drivers or law enforcement until their distracted driving gets them into trouble. Cell phone use prior to an accident is extremely common, so common in fact that those at fault are often blamed for using a cell phone use whenever a vehicle accident occurs from a driver who was distracted. Following an accident, law enforcement can usually determine whether or not a cell phone was actually in use leading up to the collision. Now however, officers would like to detect texting and driving prior to a potential accident.

Texting radar guns

Photo by: James G

A company called ComSonics has been working on a radar gun that can help police detect whether or not a cell phone is being used in a moving vehicle. The texting radar gun, named Sniffer Sleuth uses radar technology to detect radio frequencies that are emitted from a cell phone during use. Every time a text is sent, a call is made, or the phone is otherwise being used by a distracted driver, the Sniffer Sleuth will be able to pick up on the change in frequencies, alerting the officer on the other side of the gun.

A work in progress

While the Sniffer Sleuth seems like a great idea to catch those who text or Facebook while driving, there are some concerns with its accuracy and thus its validity as proof of distracted driving. For one, a speeding radar gun targets the entire car yet a texting gun is going to pinpoint where in the moving car a phone is being used? Unless a driver is alone, it seems highly unlikely that a radar gun would be able to determine from where in the car the radio frequencies are being discharged from. Another issue is for those who are texting or calling legally through the use of hands-free technology such as Bluetooth connections in their vehicle. Although law enforcement should be able to note a driver is using one of these hands-free options after viewing the driver’s phone, that driver still has to deal with the embarrassment of being pulled over along with the loss of time from the traffic stop. The other major concern that is at stake is the privacy of the public. Will the texting radar guns be able to pick up any content of messages and if not, won’t law enforcement then be able to use more privacy concerning gadgets such as the Textalyzer? Finally, will officers use this new technology as a means of pulling over a suspicious vehicle whose driver is otherwise following the law?

Criminal Charges

Photo by: houstondwiPhotos mp

If someone is found guilty of texting while driving, they will face a class C misdemeanor or a class B misdemeanor if they cause an accident where someone is seriously injured. Utah Code 41-6a-1716 states unless for navigation or during an emergency, “A person may not use a handheld wireless communication device while operating a moving motor vehicle on a highway in this state to manually:
(a) write, send, or read a written communication, including:
(i) a text message;
(ii) an instant message; or
(iii) electronic mail;
(b) dial a phone number;
(c) access the Internet;
(d) view or record video; or
(e) enter data into a handheld wireless communication device”

Anyone facing charges following law enforcement’s use of text-detecting gadgets such as Sniffer Sleuths or Textlyers should speak to an attorney about the reliability of the information collected and whether or not it will hold up in court.