Profiling and Consent: Stops, Searches, and Seizures after Soto

42 Pages Posted: 18 May 2020

See all articles by Jeffrey Fagan

Jeffrey Fagan

Columbia Law School

Amanda Geller

NYU Department of Sociology

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: May 8, 2020


Following Soto v. State (1999), New Jersey was the first state to enter into a Consent Decree with the U.S. Department of Justice to end racially selective enforcement on the state’s highways. The Consent Decree led to extensive reforms in the training and supervision of state police troopers, and the design of information technology to monitor the activities of the State Police. Compliance was assessed in part on the State’s progress toward the elimination of racial disparities in the patterns of highway stops and searches. We assess compliance by analyzing data on 257,000 vehicle stops on the New Jersey Turnpike by the state police from 2005–2007, the final months of the Consent Decree. Specifically, we exploit heterogeneity of officer and driver race to identify disparities in the probability that stops lead to a search. We assume a crime-minimizing or welfarist rationale for stops, under which race-neutral factors are equally likely to motivate stops, regardless of driver or passenger race. We also test a Fairness Presumption by comparing search patterns between driver-officer pairs where the driver and officer are different races, and a set of race-neutral benchmarks where the driver and officer are the same race. Results of fixed effects logistic regressions show that Black and Hispanic drivers, when stopped, are more than twice as likely as White drivers to be searched, regardless of officer race. The results also suggest that search patterns vary significantly by officer race: Black officers are less likely to conduct a search in the course of a stop than are White drivers. We also see significant interactions between the race of officers and that of the drivers they stop: Black drivers are significantly more likely to be searched by White officers than they are by Black officers; on the other hand, Hispanic drivers are significantly less likely to be searched by either Black or White officers than they are by Hispanic officers. Racial disparities in the selection of stopped drivers for search and in the rates of seizure of contraband suggest that despite institutional reforms under the Consent Decree in management and professionalization of patrol officers, there were no tangible gains in distributional equity. We review the design of the Consent Decree and the accompanying oversight mechanisms to identify structural weaknesses in external monitoring and institutional design in the oversight of the State Police that compromised the pursuit of equality goals.

Keywords: Soto, Soto v. State, Police, Criminal Law, Race, Consent Decree

Suggested Citation

Fagan, Jeffrey and Geller, Amanda, Profiling and Consent: Stops, Searches, and Seizures after Soto (May 8, 2020). Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law, Vol. 27, No. 1, 2020, Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-656, Available at SSRN:

Jeffrey Fagan (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
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212-854-7946 (Fax)


Amanda Geller

NYU Department of Sociology ( email )

295 Lafayette St.
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New York, NY 10012
United States
212-992-8762 (Phone)

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