Sometimes when police show up, people take off to avoid getting caught. This scene played out Friday afternoon in South Sacramento after police ran down a burglary suspect.
Running from police can be considered reasonable suspicion that someone has committed a crime. But, according to a new ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, black males may have a valid reason to avoid police.
The case stems from an incident in December 2011, where a Boston police officer looking for a burglary suspect stopped a black man. The man ran and was later found to have had an illegal gun and convicted of a weapons charge.
The Massachusetts high court threw out the conviction saying, in part, the fact the man ran did not equal reasonable suspicion he committed a crime.
After pointing to a report about racial profiling in the Boston Police Department, they said black males running from police “might just as easily be motivated by the desire to avoid the recurring indignity of being racially profiled as by the desire to hide criminal activity.”
Though it’s only legally binding 3,000 miles away, this decision got a strong reaction from Sacramento legal experts on both sides of the issue, because the implications are potentially far reaching.
Mark Reichel, a defense attorney specializing in the fourth amendment protection against illegal searches, says this could be a game changer in defending clients. He’s tried to make this argument before with no luck.
“The judges I’ve argued it to, I haven’t convinced them of it, but with a case like this, it has a much better chance of prevailing now,” Reichel said.
Furthermore, he believes defense attorneys have an obligation to make the case that racial profiling affects not just how police behave towards people, but how people react to police.
“It should be raised in front of every judge in California,” Reichel said.
Former Sacramento Sheriff John McGinness agrees the decision could go beyond Massachusetts, and he thinks that`s a problem.
“I think this is a good reasonable suspicion contact,” McGinness said.
On his KFBK radio show Friday he tackled the topic. Like the Boston police, he disputes the idea that officers disproportionately profile minorities. He fears law enforcement agencies will stop chasing suspects, will have to change police tactics and communities will pay the price.
“It will lead to lack of true enforcement of the law,” McGinness said. “Communities will suffer.”