Do all arrests warrant strip searches?

Arrest procedures are designed to facilitate the safe and orderly admission of a person to a detention facility, not to waste precious time and resources undermining that person’s dignity.

Max Rubin | Daily Trojan

The Supreme Court failed to take this concept into account Monday, when it ruled that officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense, even if the officials have no reason to suspect possession of contraband.

The court claims that under these circumstances — that is, potential release into the general prison population — strip searches are not forbidden by the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches. The court, however, seems unable to prove what the justifiable reason for these searches might be.

According to the annual FBI Uniform Crime Report, more than 13 million Americans were arrested in 2010. Of these, only about 1.6 million were for drug abuse violations, and 552,000 were for violent crimes. The other 11 million were for offenses ranging from motor vehicle theft to refusal to pay a traffic ticket.

It makes sense that a police officer would strip-search a person arrested for drugs or violent crime. The nature of these offenses suggests that he or she would have good reason to conceal an illegal substance or weapon in intimate locations on his or her body. But should someone who fails to use a turn signal during a harried trip to work or who neglects a child support payment be forced to undergo the same humiliating procedure?

The only reason an officer can provide for strip-searching a person not actually suspected of carrying contraband is “just in case.”

By that logic, police officers should be able to walk up to any person in a public area and demand that the person turn out his or her pockets, on the off chance the officers will find a concealed substance or weapon.

The scenario seems absurd because it is. Our justice system is supposed to be based on probable cause. Everything from the process for obtaining search warrants to the way a lawyer presents a defendant’s case is based on the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Travel too far outside of that realm, and it soon becomes acceptable for a person arrested for a crime such as not paying a fine to be treated like someone who held up a liquor store. Consider what would happen if a prosecutor or a judge adopted the same attitude; he or she might even view a petty offender as a murderer.

Even more troubling is the idea that corrupt officers who might want to use strip searches as a means of sexual harassment have now been granted license to demand strip searches whenever they want, without consequence and without reason.

Unnecessary strip-searching also damages the efficiency of the American justice system. Strip searches take time — time that could often be much better spent actively working to keep the community safe.

While one surrenders many personal freedoms upon being arrested, dignity and privacy are not among them. People should not have their Fourth Amendment right violated in the interest of paranoia.


Francesca Bessey is a freshman majoring in narrative studies. Point/Counterpoint runs Fridays. 


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1 reply
  1. m.d. wills
    m.d. wills says:

    You article is flawed in it’s misuse of logic. Your argument that “Our justice system is supposed to be based on probable cause.” is correct however, you failed to take the next logical step. The person seized by the state has been seized after the application of the 4th amendment protections. They have been seized based on probable cause and it’s the reason why they are in the position to be searched. Your biased examples: “But should someone who fails to use … be forced to undergo the same humiliating procedure?” are simplistic and one sided. What about the example: “But should someone who fails to use a turn signal because they had just robbed someone at knife point and was trying to shove their weapon in their underware or someone who just took their child support payment and purchased some cocaine and hid it in their underware be forced to undergo the same humiliating procedure?”. People in this country were outraged when $1.00 box cutters were used to bring down the twin towers in New York City. As a result, all of us have been willing to suspend our constitutionally protected rights and allow the TSA to use full body scanners, pat down searches, and force us to remove our shoes to board a plane. Why should we object when someone who based on probable cause, been legally seized, be required to go through nearly the same procedure we have to go through to catch a plane? The only difference is that the taxpayers are unwilling to pay for full body scanners and drug sniffing canines for every jail and prison in the country. The only realistic solution is to use the basic non-intrusive body search. Would you like to consider your position as a tax payer in the following example: “A person fails to use a turn signal because they had just robbed someone at knife point and was trying to shove their weapon in their underware. They are arrested for failure to pay a past due traffic fine and go to jail without being strip searched. This person then attacks another detainee in jail and kills them using the undetected weapon. The deceased detainee’s family now sues the state (you and I are the state and we pay for the litigation and damages) for millions of dollars for negligence.” This example illustrates the class of acts the state is trying to prevent. As a result, the tax payers aren’t footing the bill for something preventable.

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