California Appeals Court: Traffic Stop Could Be Racial Bias, Sends Case Back to Lower Court

By Sofia Hosseinzadeh and Audrey Sawyer

SANTA ANA, CA – A traffic stop in San Diego has resulted in allegations of “implicit bias” in the case of Bonds v. Superior Court, an appeal heard here this week in the Fourth District Court of Appeals, which sent the case back to the lower court for reconsideration.

While the officer involved in the case claimed he did not know the race of the driver, Tommy Bonds, III, Met News staff said this does not justify the denial of a motion under the Racial Justice Act of 2020.

Judge Howard Shore emphasized the traffic stop of the accused Tommy Bonds, III, was not rooted in racial bias if one believed the testimony of San Diego police officer Ryan Cameron, who stated that he was “unable to see what race was behind the vehicle.”

Justice William Dato of the Fourth District Court of Appeals pointed out that if a “portion of the community is disproportionately populated by people of a particular race” in terms of location, a detention could be the product of implicit bias even if the officer who initiated the stop was unaware of the race of the person being detained.

While Bonds admitted to Officer Cameron he had a gun in his vehicle and is charged with a misdemeanor for carrying a concealed weapon, the appeals court had ordered issuance of a writ of mandate directing the San Diego Superior Court to vacate the order in denying relief and to conduct a new hearing under the relevant provisions of the Racial Justice Act.

MetNews staff reports a sociologist who had testified at the hearing for the motion for Bonds stated a hoodie had been present at the time, which is typically associated with people of color. Even if the officer did not explicitly know Bonds’ race, the sociologist’s claim implies the officer may have implicitly assumed Bonds is a person of color.

“By relying on its conclusion that Officer Cameron was not lying when he said he could not discern the race of the occupants in Bonds’s vehicle, the court ignored the possibility that the officer’s actions were a product of an implicit bias that associated things the officer did not know—the location of the stop and the clothing Bonds was wearing—with race,” declared Justice Dato, according to MetNews.

According to California Law, Penal Code §745 ensures the state does not sentence a criminal conviction “on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin.” Judge Dato argued the court misinterpreted this penal code in determining if Bonds’s motion was pursuant.

“By focusing on whether Officer Cameron credibly testified that he did not know the occupants of Bonds’s car were Black when he initiated the traffic stop—or in its words, whether Cameron ‘Committed perjury’ —the court applied the wrong legal standard to the motion,” Justice Dato claimed, said MetNews.

In the question of if the officer’s racial bias was explicitly or implicitly expressed, Justice Dato argues either expression demands relief, writing, “A defendant can seek relief regardless of whether the discrimination was purposeful or unintentional; in other words, the alleged bias can be implied rather than express(ed).”

Justice Dato concluded, said MetNews, “Cameron’s claim of ignorance, if believed, might indicate that he did not intend to discriminate on the basis of race. But implicit bias is, by definition, unintentional and unconscious. The court’s findings on the record, required by the statute…, fail to address the abundant evidence suggesting that the traffic stop may have been the product of unintended racial bias.”

About The Author

Audrey is a senior at UC San Diego majoring in Political Science (Comparative Politics emphasis). After graduation, Audrey plans on attending graduate school and is considering becoming a public defender.

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