Rodriguez v. CHP

Landmark Case
Feb 27, 2003

Page Media

The Faces of DWB

On June 6, 1998 Curtis Rodriguez, a Latino attorney from San Jose, observed five traffic stops and at least ten CHP and BNE vehicles within 10 miles. Everyone stopped was Latino. Rodriguez and his passenger, Arturo Hernandez began taking pictures of the stops. Finally Rodriguez himself was pulled over by CHP, despite his efforts at obeying all traffic laws. The officer told Rodriguez he had pulled him over because his car touched the line and had turned his headlights on. "The officer told me he was going to search the car for weapons," said Rodriguez. "I refused permission for the search. Since I'm attorney, I know my rights. The officer had no probable cause to search the car, so I refused consent to search. Unfortunately, the officer refused to respect my legal rights. He ordered me out of the car and searched the car, without my permission. Of course, he found nothing illegal. The officer then checked out my license, my passenger's license and my insurance papers, and after ten minutes, he ordered us back into the car. We sat waiting twenty more minutes in the car, and then finally, he told us we could go. He didn't issue me a ticket, because I didn't do anything wrong."

In response to this Rodriguez joined with the ACLU Foundation of Northern California and the San Francisco based law firm Keker & Van Nest to file suit against CHP. During the lawsuit, it was found that Latinos were approximately three times more likely to be searched by CHP officers than whites in the Central and Coastal Divisions, and African-Americans were approximately twice as likely to be searched in those divisions.

Nearly four years later a settlement was finally reached, and CHP committed to making wide spread reforms. Among these included no longer allowing CHP to use traffic violations as an excuse for stopping and searching a car for illegal drugs unless the officers have probable cause or reasonable suspicion of drug activity. CHP has also declared a moratorium on consent searches until 2006. Further, Comprehensive data must be collected for each stop including race, the reason for the stop, whether a search was conducted and the legal basis for the search, as well as the results of the stop and search. "Today's settlement marks a turning point in the fight against racial profiling in California," said Curtis Rodriguez, a plaintiff in the case. "This settlement is important because it will make our highways safer for everyone; Latino and African American motorists will no longer have to live in fear of being stopped and searched simply because of the color of their skin."

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California DWB Report: A Report from the Highways, Trenches and Halls of Power in California

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