Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, February 15, 2024


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Court of Appeal Takes Expansive View of Racial Justice Act

Opinion Says Finding That the Officer Could Not Discern Race of the Occupant of a Vehicle Being Stopped Was Insufficient to Deny Relief; Decision to Signal Driver to Pull Over Might Have Reflected Implicit Bias


By a MetNews Staff Writer


Testimony by a police officer, which the judge believed, that he was unaware of the race of the occupant of a car when he signaled for the driver to stop, did not justify denial of a motion under the Racial Justice Act of 2020, Div. One of the Fourth District Court of Appeal held yesterday, finding that the possibility of “implicit bias” was not properly taken into account.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Howard Shore found that the traffic stop of defendant Tommy Bonds III was not the product of racial bias based on testimony by San Diego police officer Ryan Cameron that when he conducted the stop, “I cannot see what race was in that vehicle.”

Justice William Dato declared:

“In denying Bonds’s motion, the trial court employed reasoning that ignores a central premise of the Racial Justice Act—that bias can be unconscious and implied as well as conscious and express. 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 know—the location of the stop and the clothing Bonds was wearing—with race.”

Location, Clothing

With respect to the location, he said that if a portion of a “community is disproportionately populated by persons of a particular race, a detention could be the product of implicit bias even if the officer initiating the stop did not ‘know’ the race of person being detained.” The apparel that was spotted was a hoodie which, according to a sociologist who testified at a hearing on Bonds’ motion under the act, is associated with people of color.

Bonds admitted to Cameron that he had a gun in the car. He is charged with carrying a concealed weapon, a misdemeanor.

The appeals court ordered issuance of a writ of mandate directing the San Diego Superior Court to vacate its order denying relief and to conduct a new hearing under the relevant provisions of the Racial Justice Act.

Penal Code §745

Bonds’s motion was pursuant to Penal Code §745, a part of that act. Dato said the legislation was enacted based upon a concern “about extensive and compelling evidence that criminal prosecutions and sentences in this state are not always race neutral.”

He explained that the “groundbreaking legislation” creates “a procedure that criminal defendants may use to show that some participant in the process has exhibited bias,” noting:

“Significantly, 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.”

He wrote:

“The trial court seems to have misunderstood this crucial element of the statute. To be sure, section 745 can be used to address a claim of purposeful discrimination. But plainly that is not a statutory requirement, nor is it even the primary object of the statute. 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.”

The jurist continued: “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.”

The case is Bonds v. Superior Court (People), D082187.



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