DURHAM, N.C. — A judge's ruling that a North Carolina Highway Patrol trooper engaged in racial profiling could have major implications.
On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson dismissed a DWI case on the grounds that Highway Patrol Trooper Clinton Carroll was targeting Hispanics.
"The court orders as a flagrant violation of the defendant's rights, this case will be dismissed," ruled Hudson.
At stake is the reputation of the state Highway Patrol.
"You had some high-ranking officials of the Highway Patrol in court and they're not going to tolerate this coming from the rank and file, because it makes the whole Highway Patrol look bad," said Burch Williams, a defense attorney.
As a result, at least a dozen DWI cases involving Carroll and Hispanic drivers could be dropped. Future cases may also wind up being challenged in court.
"Down the road, each defense lawyer that lines up against him will have background on him and something to impeach him on," said Sgt. Everette Clendenin of the North Carolina Highway Patrol.
Last spring, the Highway Patrol conducted an internal investigation and found Carroll did nothing wrong.
"Whether the case will be reopened right now, we're unable to determine, but we're looking at everything," Clendenin said. "It is serious. One of our cases was dismissed in Superior Court, so we need to look at that."
"We're going to look at the evidence presented in this case and see if there's something that needs to be looked at -- implications involving either this particular trooper or the patrol as a whole," said Bryan Beatty, N.C. Crime Control and Public Safety secretary.
Beatty said troopers make thousands of arrests every year without incident. He is not worried about the agency's image.
"I believe the Highway Patrol can withstand the scrutiny," he said.
Defense lawyers said all North Carolinians may all benefit as a result of the ruling as law enforcement agencies take a closer look at their policies and procedures.
The Highway Patrol said it stands behind Carroll, and while there have been accusations of racial profiling against other officers in the past, none has ever been substantiated.
The Highway Patrol is expected to appeal Thursday's decision.