It is undeniable that anyone arrested on suspicion of a crime has the right to be treated fairly and humanely while in police custody. The United States Supreme Court, however, has recently limited just what those rights are when it recently decided that jails and police can strip-search anyone arrested on any charge before sending the suspect to jail. While some law enforcement officials may have reason to suspect someone accused of a violent crime of having contraband, the Supreme Court has held that police no longer need to have any suspicions whatsoever that a person has a weapon or drugs before strip-searching him or her.
Imagine driving down the freeway in Maryland and being pulled over for weaving in traffic. After giving you a sobriety test, the Montgomery County police officer determines that you may have been drinking and decides to put you under arrest. Even though your traffic stop is routine and gives the officer no cause for concern, this new decision means that you could be subjected to a humiliating and invasive search of your body in an attempt to find contraband.
This blog covered this issue’s journey to the Supreme Court back in October when a man was arrested after his wife was pulled over. The arresting officer had checked both the wife and the husband’s records and discovered that the man had an outstanding warrant for an unpaid fine. Unfortunately, the man had paid the fine and the warrant the officer discovered was a computer error, but that did not stop police from ordering a strip search. The man has said that he was utterly humiliated by the whole ordeal.
The four justices in the minority said that strip searches should only be allowed when there was some reason to do so. They argued that the Fourth Amendment protects anyone suspected of a crime from being strip-searched, unless police had a reasonable suspicion that the suspect had some kind of weapon or drugs.
The five justices in the majority, while agreeing that a strip search is an extremely intrusive search, decided that the Fourth Amendment did not actually prevent an arrestee from close visual inspection by a guard.
For more information, please read the previous post on the man who was strip-searched because of a computer error by police.
Source: The New York Times, “Supreme Court Ruling Allows Strip-Searches for Any Arrest,” Adam Liptak, April 2, 2012