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A video that's gone viral shows the reactions of two women being probed in their vaginas and rectums based on an officer's suspicion that they were smuggling marijuana.
The women were pulled over on Texas Highway 288 in 2012. After allowing a state trooper to search their vehicle for narcotics, which allegedly revealed a small amount of marijuana, a female officer proceeded to slap on gloves and perform a cavity search on both women, reports Houston's KHOU-TV.
Is this kind of invasive and warrantless probing legal?
The women who were searched, Brandy Hamilton and Alexandria Randle, were driving home from the beach and wearing bikinis when a male trooper stopped the women for speeding, reports KHOU.
The search which followed, conducted by a female trooper who was called over to assist, was captured by the officer's dashcam:
The stop may have been reasonable due to speeding, and the unwarranted search of the car was blessed by Hamilton's consent, but the cavity search is an entirely different story.
The first trooper claimed that he found a small amount of marijuana in Hamilton's car, reports KHOU, but that in no way amounts to probable cause to conduct a cavity search on the side of a highway.
In order for even a strip search to be performed, there must be sufficient government interests to outweigh the incredibly intrusive nature of a search that reveals the intimate parts of a person's body, like the need to maintain safety in prisons by doing a strip search of all inmates.
Performing a cavity search before an individual is arrested requires a high degree of probable cause. In this case, trying to justify a cavity search based on just the smell of marijuana and a loose zipper seems unreasonable in the face of the Fourth Amendment.
If there had been enough evidence to arrest the women for possession of marijuana, then a less intrusive search might have been performed by a medical professional in a private space. But as it occurred, the Texas women's cavity search seems blatantly unconstitutional.
Following sound legal advice, the two Houston-area women filed suit in July against the Texas Department of Public Safety and the troopers involved in the "highly unreasonable" search, reports The Houston Chronicle. The female trooper who conducted the search has been fired, while the male trooper has been suspended.
Although in other cases, law enforcement has billed the suspect for the cost of a cavity search, in this case it seems like the Texas DPS will likely be paying for their officers' disregard of constitutional rights.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.