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Feb 25, 3:20 PM EST

French court hears claims police frisk based on race


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PARIS (AP) -- A Paris appeals court heard a racial profiling case on Wednesday brought by 13 men - all black or of North African origin - who claim they've been victims of numerous, unjustified police identity checks because of their ethnicity.

A lower court rejected their claims in 2013, ruling that police officers didn't overstep legal boundaries.

The case has been billed as the first effort in France to tackle racial profiling by police. The issue was at the forefront of fiery 2005 riots in French housing projects where police have a notoriously bad relationship with youths, often of immigrant origin.

"We are optimistic" about winning, said Slim Ben Achour, an attorney in the case. But, he added, "we don't know when."

The appeals court verdict is set for June 24. If his clients lose in then they will take the case to France's highest court, and on to the European Court of Human Rights if need be, Ben Achour said.

In addition, similar cases will be opened in other parts of France, he said.

In France, the law allows for widespread police checks on people deemed suspicious. There is no written trace of an identity check, making it difficult for the person concerned to file a complaint. Opponents say police have too much discretion.

The case may have had a boost from a report by France's Rights Defender, Jacques Toubon, whose office forwarded observations to the court and notably said that objective criteria, not gut instincts, should guide the practice known as stop and frisk, considered as a crime-fighting tactic. The state-appointed Right's Defender was represented at Wednesday's hearing by an attorney.

The chance of being checked by police is six times higher for blacks than whites, and eight times higher for those of Arab origin, according to a study conducted in Paris by France's National Center for Scientific Research and the Open Society Justice Initiative, one of eight organizations backing the legal action.

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