FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!

Departments : Point of Law

Strip Searching Misdemeanor Arrestees

Does the Fourth Amendment permit the practice for intake searches?

June 01, 2012  |  by Devallis Rutledge - Also by this author

Photo: Mark W. Clark
Photo: Mark W. Clark

Jails and prisons are dangerous places, filled with people who are either suspected or convicted of being criminals. Officials who are charged with maintaining security in lock-ups face the challenge of balancing the constitutional rights of inmates with the need to control risks of violence and infectious contagions.

Special problems arise when someone from the outside mixes with the inmate population. This could be a visitor or a new prisoner, either of whom might bring in concealed weapons, contraband, or communicable diseases. When a new prisoner headed for the general population has been arrested for a relatively minor offense, what constitutional standard should officers follow when deciding the proper scope of an intake search?

After issuing a series of decisions over the years that have been mostly deferential to custodial officials in managing their secure facilities, the U.S. Supreme Court has issued a new ruling on the constitutionality of visual strip searches of minor-offense arrestees.

The Background Cases

Price v. Johnston (1948). In this case, the court made clear that inmate status is inconsistent with the normal constitutional rules relating to privacy and freedom from official searches, saying that "Lawful incarceration brings about the necessary withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights, a retraction justified by the considerations underlying our penal system."

Lanza v. New York (1962). The court applied the Price rationale in upholding the right of jailers to surreptitiously record inmate conversations with visitors in the jail visiting room. Said the court, "It is obvious that a jail shares none of the attributes of privacy of a home, an automobile, an office, or a hotel room. In prison, official surveillance has traditionally been the order of the day."

Bell v. Wolfish (1979). Pre-trial detainees in a federal detention center sued to prevent strip searches and visual body cavity searches that were routinely performed after contact visits with outside visitors. The Supreme Court upheld the practice as a reasonable and necessary means of controlling institutional security. Rejecting the argument that these searches were incompatible with the presumption of innocence, the court said this:

"The presumption of innocence is a doctrine that allocates the burden of proof in criminal trials. But it has no application to a determination of the rights of a pretrial detainee during confinement before his trial has even begun. A detainee simply does not possess the full range of freedoms of an unincarcerated individual. Visual cavity searches are necessary not only to discover but to deter the smuggling of weapons, drugs, and other contraband into the institution."

Hudson v. Palmer (1984). A sentenced prisoner in Virginia filed suit over random shakedown searches, alleging they violated his "limited privacy rights." The Supreme Court disagreed, saying "A right of privacy in traditional Fourth Amendment terms is fundamentally incompatible with the close and continual surveillance of inmates and their cells required to ensure institutional security and internal order. Random searches are essential to the effective security of penal institutions. The Fourth Amendment proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures does not apply within the confines of a prison cell."

Tags: Juveniles, Corrections, Search and Seizure, Fourth Amendment, Point of Law


Comments (3)

Displaying 1 - 3 of 3

Randy @ 6/5/2012 3:59 PM

This is a great article and another reason I keep coming back. Thank you.

Capt David-Ret LA County @ 6/6/2012 3:33 PM

Good info..

Mark @ 3/6/2013 9:30 AM

Under "Statutory Restrictions May Apply", Ohio should be added:

http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/2933.32

Join the Discussion





POLICE Magazine does not tolerate comments that include profanity, personal attacks or antisocial behavior (such as "spamming" or "trolling"). This and other inappropriate content or material will be removed. We reserve the right to block any user who violates this, including removing all content posted by that user.

Other Recent Stories

Unfair Criticism of U.S. Marshals
Despite a three-year budget freeze and stagnating staff levels, the U.S. Marshals...
How to Use a Pole Camera to Clear an Attic
Known as perhaps the most dangerous "fatal funnel" in police work, police officers...
Police Product Test: Pelican Progear Vault Series iPad Case
The Pelican ProGear Vault Series cases for iPad Air and iPad Mini may be the right...
Williamsburg: Policing Where the Present Meets the Past
A former NYPD cop, Hamilton moved to this quiet Tidewater community more than 15 years ago...
Dealing with Confirmation Bias
One of the biggest things you can do to correct confirmation bias is to try to disprove...

Get Your FREE Trial Issue and Win a Gift! Subscribe Today!
Yes! Please rush me my FREE TRIAL ISSUE of POLICE magazine and FREE Officer Survival Guide with tips and tactics to help me safely get out of 10 different situations.

Just fill in the form to the right and click the button to receive your FREE Trial Issue.

If POLICE does not satisfy you, just write "cancel" on the invoice and send it back. You'll pay nothing, and the FREE issue is yours to keep. If you enjoy POLICE, pay only $25 for a full one-year subscription (12 issues in all). Enjoy a savings of nearly 60% off the cover price!

Offer valid in US only. Outside U.S., click here.
It's easy! Just fill in the form below and click the red button to receive your FREE Trial Issue.
First Name:
Last Name:
Rank:
Agency:
Address:
City:
State:
  
Zip Code:
 
Country:
We respect your privacy. Please let us know if the address provided is your home, as your RANK / AGENCY will not be included on the mailing label.
E-mail Address:

Police Magazine