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What Is Racial Profiling?

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What Is Racial Profiling?

Racial profiling may be defined as any instance in which police use race as a main factor rather than behavior when determining whether a person may have engaged in criminal conduct. Different jurisdictions and authorities may have alternate approaches to racial profiling. For instance, other definitions include:

  • Inappropriate or unreasonable use of race in determining probable cause
  • Using only race and no other factors when stopping persons for a traffic stop or other law enforcement functions
  • Routine use of race in investigations that suggest a patter of discrimination based on stereotypes

The practice of racial profiling is against the law in many jurisdictions, and is generally a controversial subject in the area of criminal law. Racial profile can also include determinations based on a person’s national origin or ethnicity. Many police misconduct cases involve some form of racial profiling.

When Does Racial Profiling Become an Issue?

Racial profile is publicly associated with police walking the beat or patrolling neighborhoods in cars. A typical situation is where a police is patrolling a neighborhood in their squad car and pulls over a person solely based on their race.

Other situations where racial profiling is an issue may include:

  • Airport security screening
  • Border patrol legal issues
  • Immigration-related issues
  • National Security issues (especially in connection with terrorism)

Thus, the scope of racial profile can extend beyond simple crime investigations to include areas of law as well. Many different types of investigations can be challenged based on racial profiling concerns.

Is This Different from Offender Profiling?

Offender profiling is another criminal investigation concept, but it is much different from racial profiling. With offender profiling, police put together pieces of information and evidence to determine what type of person might have committed a particular crime.

For instance, if evidence of a robbery is found, the police might observe that the stolen items are all organized very neatly in a stash. Based on this, the police might conclude that the robber is a well-organized person and may be part of an organized crime operation.

Thus, offender profile uses known criminal evidence to identify possible mental or behavioral characteristics of an unknown suspect. In comparison, racial profiling attempts to use the physical characteristics of a known suspect and link them to reports of criminal activity.

Do I Need a Lawyer If I Have Issues Involving Racial Profiling?

Racial profiling can complicate criminal investigations and other types of legal matters. You may wish to hire a lawyer if you have any questions or concerns involving racial profiling laws. Your attorney can provide you with answers for your questions, and can also explain what your rights are. Racial profiling laws are different in each state, but a lawyer in your area can help you determine what your legal options are.

Photo of page author Jose Rivera

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 03-07-2014 04:42 PM PST

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