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Intrusiveness of Body Cavity Searches

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How Are Body Cavity Searches Defined?

Body cavity searches are defined as searches that involve a visual or manual inspection of the openings, cavities, and orifices of the human body. Each state has different laws regarding body cavity searches, but they are generally considered to be much more intrusive than strip searches or other types of police searches.

For visual body cavity searches, the agent may use a flashlight to inspect areas of the body that are normally concealed from plain sight. They may also view openings of the body, such as in the ears, nostrils, or rectum. Manual body searches are more invasive than visual body searches and may involve inspection using touch, insertion, or probing, as well as the use of medical detecting devices. 

When Is a Body Cavity Search Considered “Intrusive”?

There are many ways in which a body cavity search can be considered intrusive. Some instances include:

  • Violation of Privacy Rights: Police generally need a search warrant to conduct a body cavity search. Every person has a “reasonable expectation of privacy” when it comes to their own body, so the police’s suspicion needs to surpass this privacy expectation. Note that some instances do not require a search warrant, such as a search at an international border.
  • Incorrect Application of Procedure: The search must employ only those procedures which are absolutely necessary to accomplish the goals of the search. A common example of this is where a manual inspection has occurred when only a visual search would have sufficed. Violations of sanitation standards are also prohibited.
  • Location of the Search: The search needs to occur in a place that is not visible to the public. In fact, the search can’t be visible to anyone who is not essential for the conducting of the body cavity search, even if they are authorized agents. The only persons viewing the search should be those who are needed there.
  • Less Invasive Means: Regardless of the type of body cavity search involved, a body cavity search may be considered intrusive if it is performed when there is a less invasive means of search involved, such as an x-ray procedure.

If a body cavity search is found to be overly-intrusive, the evidence obtained from that search will likely be excluded from a criminal trial. Body cavity search laws therefore require the authorities to follow strict standards, and if possible to use alternative search methods if available.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Body Cavity Search Issues?

Body cavity searches need to be done in a way that minimizes the amount of intrusiveness upon the suspect’s body. You may wish to hire a criminal lawyer if you need help with legal issues involving body cavity searches. Your attorney can advise you on your rights and can also provide you with legal representation for your situation. A qualified criminal law attorney will be able to help determine what your legal options are under your state’s laws.

Photo of page author Jose Rivera

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 01-28-2014 11:01 AM PST

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