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Reasonable Suspicion Required for Strip-Searches

NCJ Number
Corrections Today Magazine Volume: 66 Issue: 3 Dated: June 2004 Pages: 28-29
William C. Collins
Date Published
June 2004
2 pages
This article reviews recent court decisions on strip-searches of arrestees.
Beginning in the 1980’s, Federal circuit courts have consistently ruled that arrestees cannot be strip-searched without reasonable suspicion. Following these rulings, some jail administrators began looking for loopholes in the law that would allow them to continue strip-searching all arrestees. The article focuses on the two main ways in which jail administrators have attempted to get around the law: (1) so-called clothing exchanges and (2) general population placement. In general, clothing exchanges require that arrestees strip nude in front of an officer so that the officer may inspect the clothing and visually assure there is no contraband on the body of the arrestee. The jail administers argue that this does not constitute a strip search. Clothing exchanges were ruled on by the 1st and 7th Circuit Courts in 2003. The 1st Circuit Court ruled that any visual inspection of a naked body violated the Fourth Amendment unless there was reasonable suspicion to search the arrestee. The 7th Circuit Court ruled that requiring an arrestee to strip down to underwear involved minimal intrusion and therefore does not violate the constitutional rights of the arrestee. The other tactic administrators use to continue strip-searching arrestees is to argue that the rule only applies to the booking process; once an arrestee is moved from the booking and admissions area to a general population housing facility, they can be legally strip-searched. The courts have consistently rejected this argument and have required that any strip-search of any arrestee may only be conducted if reasonable suspicion exists. Jail administrators who have not tried to find loopholes and have followed the reasonable suspicion requirement have reported no upswing in contraband within their facilities. Endnotes