Race Tracking on the Roads
North Carolina’s General Assembly has come up with a creative way to prevent police officers from selectively enforcing traffic laws based on a person’s race, ethnicity, age or gender. Under North Carolina General Statute §143B-903 et seq., police officers are assigned an anonymous ID number. Then, for each traffic stop, they are required to collect and maintain information relating to the aforementioned characteristics of the driver, in addition to: the alleged traffic violation leading to the stop, whether the stop led to any criminal charges, whether there was a search conducted; whether any contraband was found; whether force was used; and whether any injuries resulted; in addition to other relevant factors. See N.C.G.S. §143B-903(a)(1)-(15). The correlation between the anonymous ID number and the individual officer is then available to criminal defendants via court order. See N.C.G.S. §143B-903(d). There isn’t much available with respect to the legislative history of this law, but presumably the purpose is to identify which officers are selectively enforcing traffic laws based on constitutionally protected classes. This would arm defendants with statistical evidence to support assertions that their stop was pre-textual and unconstitutional. This defendants’-weapon would then also serve as a shield for police officers, enabling them to rebut frivolous claims that they were stopping drivers based on race, gender etc. with hard, irrefutable evidence of their previous conduct.
There is one glaring problem with this law: police departments aren’t following it. The only traffic stop statistics available on the North Carolina Department of Justice’s website are by Agency (http://trafficstops.ncdoj.gov/Default.aspx?pageid=2), which is little help to a defendant trying to prove that their rights were violated by an individual officer. The statute doesn’t proscribe a remedy for when police departments are non-compliant, so it’s difficult to see what incentive there is to actually comply with the law.
We recently made a motion for dismissal in a District Court case involving serious criminal charges that stemmed from a traffic stop of an African-American male for expired registration. Our argument was that, because of the police department’s non-compliance with General Statute §143B-903, the defendant should be entitled to a presumption that the law was selectively enforced and that his rights were violated. Otherwise what reason does the State have to ever comply with this law? The counterargument being that the statute does not provide a specific remedy for non-compliance, and there was no conclusive evidence of pretext on the part of the officer (as is the problem with most equal protection violation claims). The charges were dismissed prior to a decision on the motion, so what the outcome would have been remains uncertain.
For more information on North Carolina Statutes and Constitutional rights, contact Parton & Associates, PLLC.
Drafted by Corey V. Parton, Esquire.
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