A strip search is a type of search method employed by the police, which is typically used for the purpose of finding drugs or other contraband (e.g., weapons).
Strip searches often entail a more invasive technique when compared to that of a regular pat-down search. For instance, strip searches may involve a wide range of police actions, such as:
- Requesting that a suspect remove all articles of clothing or accessories from their physical body;
- Probing (or searching) a person’s body parts, cavities, and creases (like under a flap of skin);
- Applying electronic body scanners, which reveal a person’s entire body (similarly to an x-ray or the machines used during airport security checks); and
- Conducting a partial strip search, where a person will be asked to remove only certain items, such as their shoes, socks, coat, sweatshirt, belt, metal objects (e.g., jewelry), or simply to untuck a bulky shirt.
When a strip search occurs, the suspect may feel as if their personal privacy has been violated. Many people also frequently experience a sense of shame or humiliation during the process or after the strip search is complete. Thus, due to its personal nature, a strip search must be supported by reasonable suspicion before law enforcement can perform one.
In this context, the term “reasonable suspicion” means that the police must reasonably suspect that a person is engaged in some form of crime (e.g., hiding illegal drugs) that requires them to be strip searched.
Are Strip Searches Legal?
Although the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that a person “has a right to be free from unreasonable searches,” the laws specifically governing strip searches are somewhat vague and may vary from state to state.
In general, a strip search is usually considered to be unlawful when any of the following events occur:
- The police perform the strip search without having reasonable suspicion of criminal activity;
- When a search is conducted by a law enforcement officer of the opposite sex;
- The search is carried out in the presence of other persons (i.e., not police officers) of the opposite sex;
- If the search is done in a manner that exposes the person’s body to the public; and
- When a search is administered in a way that is degrading, insulting, offensive, or overly intrusive.
Some courts have raised concerns over whether a strip search can be used against persons who have not yet been charged with a crime. Many jurisdictions have ruled that it is inappropriate to strip search an individual if they have not been lawfully arrested for a crime.
This guideline is especially true if the strip search is unrelated to the type of criminal activity involved. For example, it is usually inappropriate for the police to perform a strip search on a person when ticketing them for a simple traffic violation.
What are “Blanket” Strip Search Policies?
Policies for “blanket” strip searches have been the basis of many lawsuits brought against certain types of institutions, such as jails, prisons, and hospitals. Having a “blanket” policy refers to when one of the above facilities conducts a strip search on any person being admitted to the area, regardless of their criminal history.
Some courts have previously held that a strip search is solely permitted when the authorities possess an “individualized” suspicion of criminal activity. For example, allowing the police to perform a strip search on only those inmates who they suspect are smuggling drugs or other illegal items.
As such, an individual who has undergone a strip search may want to consult with a criminal defense lawyer about the incident because it might have been performed unlawfully or for inappropriate reasons. Many persons have had success in past lawsuits based on unconstitutional strip searches.
What is a Strip Search Scam?
Strip search scams have become increasingly common over the past decade. A strip search scam is a scenario where a person commits the crime of fraud by posing as a law enforcement officer. They will then stage a fake stop or arrest of another individual, and subject them to a strip search.
In the past, this type of fraudulent scheme has been taken advantage of by seriously corrupt individuals; some of whom are sex offenders.
Therefore, if law enforcement is requesting that a person submit to a strip search wherein something about the situation seems reasonably wrong, the person might want to ask the officer to verify that they are actually a legitimate police officer before they perform the search (e.g., “May I please see your badge?”).
To lighten such a tough situation further, the person may want to express their concerns over such strip search scams and they may also want to request that another police officer be present during the search if possible.
A good indication of when something about the situation may be off is if the strip search is performed in a secluded area with no witnesses or other law enforcement personnel present. This could potentially be a sign that the search being done is not lawful and is in fact the result of a strip search scam.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Issues Involving a Strip Search?
A strip search is considered one of the most intrusive forms of police procedures. They should only be performed when absolutely necessary. Therefore, if you feel that your rights have been violated while undergoing a strip search, then you should consider contacting a local criminal defense attorney immediately.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can assist you in investigating the incident. If the situation warrants it, your lawyer can also help you file a lawsuit and provide representation in court if necessary.