Based on a new law that took effect on January 1, 2024, state and local law enforcement officials will no longer be able to ask drivers, “do you know why I pulled you over?” Instead, officers will now have to state the reason for the stop at the beginning of their contact, unless the officer believes there is a threat to life or property. Officers will also need to include the reason for the stop in their reports and the agencies will be required to include reasons given to people at the time of their stop in their annual reports. Additionally, officers cannot use a driver’s race, ethnicity, or gender unless it is based on the officer’s observations. Information regarding the public’s rights during a traffic stop will be included in the state’s driver handbook.
The goals of the new law are:
- The reduction of instances of officers using minor charges as an excuse to search for evidence of a more serious unrelated crime.
- The reduction of racial profiling and avoidance of confrontations between citizens and police.
The author of the bill, Assemblymember Chris Holden, believes that confrontations between law enforcement and the public happens because people of color are being forced to comply with law enforcement demands without knowing why they were initially stopped. Holden hopes that the bill will lead to the promotion of equity and accountability across California.
A 2021 report by the Public Policy Institute of CA (PPIC) analyzed data stemming from around 4 million stops by the 15 largest law enforcement agencies in California, finding that:
- Blacks were twice as likely as their white counterparts to be searched during a stop.
- Blacks (9.5%) were more likely than whites (5.6%) to be arrested during a stop.
- Blacks and Latinos are more likely to be asked to step out of their vehicle or to have force or some other form of physical contact used during their stop.
- According to the Public Defender’s Association, “some officers launch into a series of questions that may have no apparent relationship to any basis for the stop, the longer the questioning goes on the more apprehensive the individual becomes of the officer’s true motives. However, when confronted by an officer they may feel compelled to answer the questions when in fact they are not required to do so.”
- Informing an individual about the reason for the stop at the beginning, the individual would then be able to determine if the follow-up questions are legitimate or an attempt to elicit incriminating statements or acquiescence to a search.
Opponents of A.B. 2773 included the California’s State Sheriff’s Association which argued:
- Obtaining more information from the subject was important to protect everyone’s safety.
- Traffic stops are some of the most dangerous types of interactions for law enforcement officers and getting additional information at the start of contact is vital for effective risk assessment.
- The exception for protecting life and property is not enough to address all the risks associated with traffic stops.
Attorney Jeff Hammerschmidt states, “I anticipate that compliance with this new law will occur at a much higher rate for police agencies that require their officers to wear body cams than for agencies that don’t utilize body cams.”
If you have been stopped or arrested by California law enforcement without receiving a reason for the initial stop, contact Hammerschmidt Law Corporation at (559) 233-5333.