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Strip Search Laws

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What Is a Strip Search?

A strip search is a method of search used by police, usually for the purpose of finding drugs or a weapon being carried by a suspect. Strip searches can often be more invasive than a regular pat-down search. They can involve a wide spectrum of activities, including:

  • Asking the suspect to remove clothing or other items on their physical body
  • Searching or probing of bodily parts, cavities, and crevices (such as underneath a fold of skin)
  • Electronic body scans that reveal the person’s entire body, such as those used in airline security searches
  • Partial strip searches, wherein the person is asked to remove shoes, socks, coats, jackets, belts, underwear, or untuck their shirt

Strip searches can often cause the suspect to feel that their privacy has been invaded, and many persons may feel a certain indignity when subjected to a strip search. For this reason, a strip search must be supported by reasonable suspicion before a police officer can perform one. This means that the police must reasonably suspect that the person is engaged in some form of crime that requires them to be strip searched.

Are Strip Searches Legal?

The laws covering strip searches are somewhat unclear and can vary according to jurisdiction. In general, a strip search is considered to be inappropriate if it is performed:

  • Without a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity
  • By an officer of the opposite sex
  • In the presence of persons of the opposite sex
  • In a manner that exposes the person’s body to the public
  • In a manner that is degrading, insulting, offensive, or overly intrusive

Some court cases have raised concerns regarding strip searches being performed on persons who have not yet been charged with a crime. Many jurisdictions may rule that it is inappropriate to strip search a person if they have not been convicted of any crime, especially if the strip search is unrelated to the type of crime involved (for example, performing a strip search for a simple traffic violation).

What Are “Blanket” Strip Search policies?

Many lawsuits have been filed regarding “blanket” strip search policies for institutions such as jails, prisons, or hospitals. A “blanket” policy is where the facility performs a strip search on any person being admitted to the area, regardless of their criminal background. 

Some courts have held that a strip search is only allowed where the authorities have an “individualized” suspicion of criminal activity (i.e., strip searching only those inmates who are suspected of smuggling drugs or other contraband).

Therefore, if you have been subjected to a strip search that you believe was illegal, you may wish to consult with a lawyer.  Many persons have had success in past lawsuits regarding unconstitutional strip searches.

What Is a Strip Search Scam?

Strip search scams have become increasingly common during the last decade. A strip search scam is where a fraudster poses as a police officer. They will then stage a fake stop or arrest of another person, and subject them to a strip search. This type of fraud has been used in the past by unscrupulous persons, some of them sex offenders. 

If you are being asked to submit to a strip search, you may wish to ask the officer to verify that they are actually a legitimate police officer. You can inform them of your concern regarding strip search scams, and if possible, request for another police officer to be present during the search.  Strip search scams have often been performed in a secluded area where no witnesses were present.     

Do I Need a Lawyer for Issues with Strip Searches?

A strip search is perhaps one of the most intrusive forms of police procedures. They should only be performed when absolutely necessary. If you feel that your rights have been violated during a strip search, you should contact an attorney immediately. Your lawyer can assist you in investigating the incident, and if necessary, can file a lawsuit on your behalf.      

Photo of page author Peter Clarke

, LegalMatch Content Manager

Last Modified: 01-28-2014 03:28 PM PST

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