Switch to ADA Accessible Theme
Close Menu

Study Finds That Police Are Persistently Racially Biased in Traffic Stops, Searches, And Seizures, Providing Serious Implications for Defense


A new study published in Nature Human Behaviour demonstrates that not only do police stop Black drivers in large part due to their race, but also that they apply a lower evidentiary standard in deciding to conduct searches of Black and Latinx drivers. The study has broad implications, not only demonstrating a “persistent racial bias” in decisions to both stop and search certain types of motorists, but also in their application (or lack thereof) of Fourth Amendment search and seizure protections, which dictate when police conduct illegal searches and make unlawful arrests (or seizures).

The study also has significant implications for the field of criminal defense and justice in general, implying that certain minorities are targeted for arrests and are more often victims of illegal searches and seizures, whereby any evidence seized – for example, in pursuit of drug charges – must be suppressed if it violates an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights.

How The Study Examined the Effect of Race On Traffic Stops in General

The study analyzed data taken between 2011 and 2018 from approximately 95 million traffic stops and blatantly indicated that significantly fewer Black drivers were stopped after sunset than during daylight hours, where race was the only factor that could explain the disparity.

Lower Evidentiary Standard Applied to Search Black & Latinx Vehicles

The study also found that police were more likely to conduct warrantless searches of vehicles belonging to Black and Latinx drivers without the constitutional authority to do so – i.e. in violation of the Fourth Amendment, or without the driver’s consent, probable cause that there was evidence of a crime in the vehicle, any reasonable belief that it was necessary for their own protection, or incident to lawful arrest.  As a result, the authors of the study concluded that decisions concerning whom to stop and search are biased against Black and Hispanic drivers compared to their white counterparts.

The Effects of Drug Policies

The authors also looked at the effects of drug policies on these racial disparities by examining whether the number of searches decreased in areas where recreational marijuana was legal, and found that they did decrease for all drivers. However, even where recreational marijuana was legal, the standard applied for justifying a search of a minority vehicle was still lower than that for a white driver.

What This Means in Terms of Criminal Justice

The results of the study must be examined and applied on a broader scale of criminal justice concerns and beyond the day-to-day decisions that police officers make in traffic stops in order to fully realize how this racial bias translates into a higher rate of illegal traffic stops, searches, and seizures, as well as arrests and evidence that has been illegally obtained making its way into the US criminal justice system. When, for example, police disproportionately patrol Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, the effects of pulling people for even minor traffic violations–such as a broken tail light–can have huge downstream effects when those individuals are also then subjected to illegal searches and seizures based on the color of their skin. This ultimately leads to more minorities being targeted for arrest, serious criminal charges, and incarceration.

If You Have Been Subjected to Racial Bias During a Traffic Stop, Search and Seizure, And/or Arrest, Contact Experienced New York Criminal Defense Attorney Mark I. Cohen

If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, contact experienced NYC criminal attorney Mark I. Cohen, Esq. to find out how we can provide you with the very best in legal guidance and representation.





Facebook Twitter LinkedIn
The New York Criminal Bar Association
Avvo Clients' Choice Award 2017
Avvo Reviews Mark L. Cohen


"... Mr. Cohen's effort... in everything he has done before the Court, is A-Plus... [R]ecently, in another case... [before me], the result he achieved for his client... was quite impressive." Honorable Kenneth M. Karas, United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York.


"So I have very sophisticated counsel here and, Mr. Cohen, [your client] is very fortunate in having you as his attorney, and I hope he appreciates that." – Quote from the Honorable Denise L. Cote, United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York.


"As Mark Cohen, a defense lawyer who has tried cases throughout the city and was a prosecutor in the Bronx, pointed out, there is a saying among defense lawyers in New York." – As provided in the New York Times City Room Blog.

Have an emergency? Call now
Translate »