Can Racial Profiling Affect My Criminal Case?

Racial profiling is both illegal and infective. It builds mistrust among the communities that law enforcement are sworn to protect and leads to disproportionate arrests and detentions among people of certain ethnicities, national origins, and religions. People have even been wrongly convicted of crimes on the basis of racial profiling.

If you have been charged with a crime and you believe you were racially profiled, share your concerns with a lawyer experienced in criminal defense as soon as possible. In some cases, if a defendant can establish they were stopped because of their race, law enforcement’s evidence against them may be deemed inadmissible.

Criminal cases involving racial profiling are quite complex and require the legal services of a highly skilled lawyer familiar with civil rights law.

What Is Racial Profiling?

Despite laws prohibiting law enforcement personnel from targeting people for interrogations, searches, and detentions solely based on their perceived ethnicity/race, the problem of racial profiling persists in New Jersey and across the United States.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) considers racial profiling: The practice by law enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on the individual’s race, ethnicity, religion or natural origin.

There are situations in which a suspect’s race is relevant, specifically when law enforcement is pursuing a suspect with certain physical characteristics. Officers can consider race or ethnicity if they are pursuing a specific lead in an existing criminal case or to determine if a suspect matches the physical description in a Be on the Lookout (BOLO) bulletin. Such descriptors are lawful when they are used in a suspect-specific or investigation-specific situation.

Profiling becomes unlawful when race or ethnicity is used as the sole basis for stopping, detaining, or arresting a suspect.

Is Racial Profiling Constitutional?

Racial profiling is both illegal and unconstitutional. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

To clarify what constitutes unreasonable, the United States Supreme Court states that: To determine whether the police officer acted reasonably in the stop, a court should not look at whether he has a hunch, but rather tothe specific reasonable inferences which he is entitled to draw from the facts in light of his experience.

In simpler terms, it is unconstitutional to pull someone over based on assumptions about race or nationality. They cannot use someone’s racial appearance alone as grounds for reasonable suspicion in a criminal investigation.

New Jersey Must Work Harder to Combat Racial Profiling

NJ Spotlight News collected and analyzed data from traffic stops across the state for the years 2018, 2019, and 2020. They found that even though white motorists were stopped three times more than Black motorists, Black drivers were physically searched, had their vehicles searched, and were arrested more than whites.

The use of force in traffic stops was uncommon, but when it did occur, it was used disproportionately against Black individuals and Hispanics, when compared with whites. Force was used twice as often in stops involving Hispanic motorists, and four times as often in stops involving Black motorists.

Is Racial Profiling a Defense to Criminal Charges in New Jersey?

As you might imagine, cases involving alleged racial profiling often involve some gray area. Racial profiling is not easy to prove. Officers may dispute claims, saying they had valid reasons to stop someone of a certain race. The defendant and their counsel must raise enough concern to overcome an officer’s denials of racial profiling.

If they can, it falls on the prosecution to prove the defendant’s stop was, in fact, legal, and the evidence gathered in the stop is enough to prove their guilt without a reasonable doubt.

If the criminal defense attorney successfully shows racial profiling played a part in a criminal stop, that is still no guarantee all charges will be dropped. They must go a step further to show any evidence against them should be deemed inadmissible because it was gathered during an unlawful stop. If they can, they may have cause for a motion to dismiss.

Tools to Combat Racial Profiling in New Jersey 

Data shows that although Black drivers account for just one-fifth of overall stops, they make up 39 percent of all post-stop activities including searches, the use of force, and any actions requiring them to step out of the vehicle.

Therefore, what is being done to combat unlawful racial profiling in the Garden State?

Test to determine compliance.

When considering a specific traffic stop, would the officer have treated the individual differently had they been of a different race or ethnicity? If the answer is yes and the BOLO exception does not apply, that conduct would constitute racially influenced policing.

Identifying violations is the first step to holding officers accountable and protecting the rights of every individual. 

State police traffic stop dashboard.

The New Jersey State Traffic Dashboard was released in mid-2021. It contains data on more than six million traffic stops recorded over a 12-year period. Each record includes information about the race of the driver, the summons issued, searched vehicles, and other details.

This information has proved invaluable in identifying patterns of racially motivated stops and arrests. The report has been called a powerful tool to promote transparency and accountability in policing New Jersey.

Body cameras.

Body cameras worn by officers are very effective at discouraging unlawful police activity, including racial profiling. When the facts of a stop are in question, cameras offer indisputable evidence of how a stop played out.

A study conducted by the University of Chicago Crime Lab and the Council on Criminal Justice’s Task Force on Policing found the key benefit of body-worn cameras is a reduction in the use of police force. Complaints against police in departments utilizing body-worn cameras dropped by 17 percent.

In June 2021, New Jersey mandated the use of body cameras in every police force across the state. The state is spending $57 million to outfit officers in 487 agencies with high-tech cams. These cameras utilize a cloud-based storage system that saves footage for up to 180 days.

Although New Jersey is currently providing body cams statewide, costs are still prohibitive in many law enforcement agencies outside of New Jersey and across the nation.


Racially profiling is unconstitutional. If you believe race played a part in your criminal case, contact a proven criminal defense lawyer for guidance. To assist your lawyer, save all documentation related to your arrest, including police reports and contact information for witnesses who were at the scene.

Footage recorded by body-worn cameras is another vital piece of the puzzle to help build your case if the officer violated your constitutional rights during a stop. Racial profiling is just one example of police misconduct. Fraud, coercion, and excessive use of force can all impact the course of your case.

If your lawyer can show your stop was unlawful, you may be able to have your charges reduced or dismissed altogether. Schedule a consultation with a criminal defense lawyer to discuss the specific circumstances of your arrest and determine your options under the law.

Somerville Criminal Defense Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C., Represent Victims of Racial Profiling in New Jersey

If you suspect you were racially profiled during your traffic stop, the Somerville criminal defense lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C., will advocate for you. We understand the law and work hard to protect your civil rights and ensure police officers acted lawfully. Our goal is to build the strongest defense to possibly reduce or dismiss your charges entirely. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients in Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.