California Appellate Court Orders Rehearing for Black Man Alleging Racial Bias in 2022 Traffic Stop

SAN DIEGO — A Black man in California is getting another opportunity to prove that his traffic stop and subsequent arrest by San Diego police in 2022 was influenced by unconscious racial bias. The state appellate court is testing California’s Racial Justice Act and has ordered a rehearing of the case, considering the idea of implicit bias. The court found that the initial judge failed to address significant evidence suggesting that the traffic stop may have been a result of unintended racial bias.

The ruling, which was published last week, stems from one of the few local cases that have challenged the state’s Racial Justice Act, which aims to eliminate racial bias in the justice system. The appeals court emphasized that the law recognizes that bias can be unconscious and implied, in addition to being conscious and express.

In this case, the driver, Tommy Bonds III, was pulled over by San Diego police Officer Ryan Cameron after he drove past Bonds’ car and quickly made a U-turn to stop him. Bonds, who is Black, was ultimately cited for having a concealed weapon, but he raised concerns about being targeted because of his race. During the hearing, Officer Cameron testified that he had not seen Bonds’ race before deciding to initiate the traffic stop. However, he did mention that Bonds was wearing a hooded sweatshirt with the hood up. Bonds questioned whether white individuals would be treated in the same manner.

The appellate court found that the lower court judge’s ruling failed to acknowledge the possibility of implicit bias. The panel recognized that the law does not require the defendant to prove intentional discrimination and that it explicitly considers unconscious and implied bias. The court suggested that the officer may have subconsciously associated the driver’s appearance, such as their clothing and presence in the neighborhood, with race.

The outcome of this case could have broader implications for future challenges brought under the Racial Justice Act in the county. The law has been sparingly used so far, with the Public Defender’s Office filing Racial Justice Act motions in approximately 25 cases since its enactment.

The San Diego Police Department and the City Attorney’s Office, which brought the initial criminal case against Bonds, declined to comment on the ongoing litigation. However, Public Defender Paul Rodriguez expressed gratitude for the appellate court’s consideration of the case. Rodriguez emphasized that the Racial Justice Act recognizes that racial bias, whether conscious or unconscious, should not exist in a fair criminal justice system.

It is important to note that Shore, the judge in the Bonds matter, has recently faced accusations of making racist and insensitive comments. The chief public defenders have asked him to recuse himself from a particular homicide case involving a Racial Justice Act motion and all other cases brought by their office. Shore has denied the allegations and the request, claiming that his comments were taken out of context or were untrue. In a separate matter, Shore was censured by California’s Commission on Judicial Performance for missing 155 court days without authorization.

The rehearing of Bonds’ case will shed more light on the interpretation and application of the Racial Justice Act in California. The appellate court’s decision to consider implicit bias underscores the need for a fair and unbiased criminal justice system that addresses all forms of racial discrimination, whether they are conscious or unconscious.