Could Racial Profiling Be Used as a Defense in Pennsylvania?

Legally reviewed by:
Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C.
March 18, 2021

It’s a sad reality that despite the progress that society has made to put an end to racism, this unfair bias continues to be a genuine problem in Pennsylvania and across the U.S. In recent years, many prominent cases involving racial profiling by law enforcement have highlighted an ongoing issue. While Pennsylvania State Police adopted a policy in 2019 prohibiting racial profiling against Hispanic immigrants, African Americans and other groups continue to be targeted.

If you have been arrested on grounds you believe are the result of racial profiling in Pennsylvania, you may ask what your legal rights and options are. In a few words, stopping a person based on their race is illegal and violates the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. If the police stopped you because they racially profiled you, that stop was a violation of your Constitutional rights, making that stop illegal and any evidence acquired during that stop inadmissible in court.

Racial Profiling Is a Violation of the Fourth Amendment

Under the Fourth Amendment, Americans are protected from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Based on this Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court established a legal standard of “reasonable suspicion” that law enforcement must meet before they can search any person or seize their property. This standard makes it necessary for law enforcement to meet the following requirements before stopping and searching a person:

“…to determine whether the police officer acted reasonably in the stop, a court should not look at whether he has a hunch, but rather ‘to the specific reasonable inferences which he is entitled to draw from the facts in light of his experience.’”

Relating to racial profiling, the Supreme Court rules that law enforcement cannot consider an individual’s race as a “specific reasonable inference” that a person has committed an offense. That means stopping anyone based upon their skin color is exactly what the Fourth Amendment is designed to safeguard against. While this doesn’t guarantee that law enforcement will never judge a person’s race when conducting policing activities, race cannot be the sole reason for making a stop.

Are There Exceptions That Enable Police to Consider Race When Making a Stop?

One exception to note is when law enforcement is searching for a suspect that matches a particular racial description. This frequently leads to ambiguity in cases where law enforcement officers are accused of racial profiling because they had a particular objective in stopping a person of color.

When an officer challenges racial profiling claims, the defendant must bear the burden of raising adequate concern to overwhelm the officer’s denials. The burden then shifts to the prosecution to prove:

  • The defendant’s stop was legitimate, and
  • The evidence collected following the defendant’s stop is adequate to demonstrate their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

What Can I Do If I’m the Victim of Racial Profiling in Pennsylvania?

If you’ve been racially profiled in Pennsylvania, you may wonder if there’s anything you can do to protect your rights. The best thing you can do is consult with a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer experienced in these matters.

When you claim your Fourth Amendment rights were violated, it is imperative to raise the subject of racial profiling in compliance with all applicable judicial proceedings. Simply accusing the officer of racial profiling without grounds won’t yield a desirable result. However, when you partner with an experienced criminal defense lawyer, they should be able to establish whether you have grounds to claim racial profiling as a defense. In that case, your attorney should be able to take the necessary legal steps to raise the matter in court.

While sufficient grounds to assert racial profiling do not mean your charges will automatically be dropped, it does mean you’ll have the opportunity to claim that the prosecution’s evidence against you is inadmissible. Suppose you can prove that you were stopped due to your race and that the judge should consider the prosecution’s evidence as objectionable as a consequence. In that case, you may have substantial grounds to warrant a motion to dismiss your case.

Consult an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer in Bucks County, PA Today

Racial profiling is an infringement of every person’s constitutional rights. If you’ve been the victim of racial profiling in Pennsylvania, don’t hesitate to contact the experienced criminal defense lawyers of Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C.

For over 65 years, our lawyers have provided nationally recognized legal services to clients across Southeastern Pennsylvania, earning recognitions like a Tier 1 ranking for ten consecutive years in the “Best Law Firms” by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers©. To speak with a skilled criminal defense attorney over a free case review, complete our contact form or call 215-822-7575 today.

Legally reviewed by:
Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C.
Pennsylvania Attorney's
March 18, 2021
Established in 1952 by Irwin S. Rubin, Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C. boasts over 65 years of experience serving clients throughout Pennsylvania. Renowned for its commitment to ethical representation, the firm has garnered prestigious accolades, including being named the "Best Law Firm" for its outstanding legal defense work by U.S. News & World Report. Their team of seasoned attorneys, recognized as Pennsylvania Super Lawyers and Rising Stars, brings unparalleled expertise to a wide range of legal matters, ensuring exceptional representation for individuals, families, businesses, and organizations.