Illegal traffic searches by police to be topic at Penn Law school conference

By | October 18, 2023
Illegal traffic searches by police to be topic at Penn Law school conference

A PennLive reporter who has investigated “pretextual” car stops was invited to be a member of a panel on the policing of drivers at a University of Pennsylvania Law School symposium Friday.

Joshua Vaughn will be among four panelists to discuss whether traffic stops make the public safer, “given the deadly risk posed to Black drivers and widely documented abuses of police discretion,” according to the schedule of events.

The symposium be held virtually on Friday from 8:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and is titled, “Moving Toward Liberation: Transportation and Mobility Justice.” It will center on three critical questions: who can move, when, and under what circumstances, according to a description of the event.

Joshua Vaughn wrote about police pulling over drivers for small traffic violations in order to find drugs or evidence of other crimes, in a series of articles in 2020, when he wrote for The Appeal.

In the series, in which he partnered with a Spotlight PA reporter, they reviewed 32 cases from 2016 to 2020 that arose from stops by troopers with the Pennsylvania State Police interdiction unit in Cumberland, Franklin, and Dauphin Counties.

Eight of those cases were thrown out in court because of the police’s failure to establish probable cause, the news organizations reported, while nine more remained active but had pending motions to suppress. More than a third of the cases were sealed from public view because the charges were dismissed or withdrawn.

According to the series, defense and civil rights attorneys and educators compare the searches to a version of highway stop-and-frisk. But by casting a wide net, however, certain people may be disproportionately targeted despite having done nothing wrong, according to The Appeal and Spotlight PA.

State police said these pretextual stops and searches effectively uncover drugs and weapons, but the two-month review by The Appeal and Spotlight PA found many of them are conducted illegally and eventually get thrown out in court.

The panel on traffic stops is one of five panels and a keynote address that will be featured at the 41st Annual Edward V. Sparer Symposium, which is one of the law school’s cornerstone events.

According to the law school, the symposium brings together academics, practitioners, community members, activists, and organizers to provide insight into the dynamic relationship between scholarship and practice in the area of poverty law.

Here are the links to read the series of stories.

Highway ‘stop-and-frisk’: How Pennsylvania state troopers conduct illegal traffic searches

How Pa. state troopers seize big money from drivers, many of whom are never charged

Pa. inspector general reviewing legality of some state police traffic stops, searches

For information on how to tune into the free symposium, visit the website for U Penn Law School.