September 26, 2017

The ACLU of Massachusetts today urged the Massachusetts Supreme Court (SJC) to declare unconstitutional pretextual traffic stops – or traffic stops in which a police officer uses a traffic violation as an excuse to stop a driver that the officer wants to stop for other reasons, like investigating an unrelated, suspected criminal offense.

The ACLU of Massachusetts filed an amicus brief with the SJC in Commonwealth v. Buckley. The brief argues that pretextual stops are unreasonable, and therefore not permitted by the Massachusetts constitution, because they drive racial profiling and put people of color at risk of police violence.

According to the amicus brief, pretextual stops have led to roads that are, in practice, segregated: white people drive on roads where they generally don’t get pulled over for minor traffic infractions. But people of color do not get to drive on those roads. Instead, they drive on roads where they too often are pulled over for minor infractions, and when they do get pulled over they can lose their lives. The deaths of Philando Castille and Walter Scott, which are described in the brief, are tragic examples of this problem.

“Pretextual traffic stops create an inherently racist dynamic,” said Rahsaan Hall, director of the Racial Justice Program at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “We’ve seen too many times how improper stops and searches create a very real risk for people of color, particularly unarmed black men. For every police encounter that results in death, there are countless others that erode respect for law and increase civilian risk. It’s time that the movement for police reform is joined by an equally ambitious movement for court reform.”

In Commonwealth v. Buckley, the defendant and his co-defendant maintain that items were seized during a traffic stop in violation of the rights secured to them by the Fourth, Fifth and 14th amendments to the United States Constitution and Articles 12 and 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. According to the amicus brief, the Court should find that pretextual traffic stops violate Article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights because its core purpose is to protect the people of Massachusetts from arbitrary invasions of their privacy.