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When Can Police Conduct a Strip Search?

By Andrew Lu on December 20, 2012 10:36 AM

You've probably heard stories about this before: police forcing someone to undergo a strip search following a minor traffic violation or even for littering, as allegedly happened in Texas recently.

While strip searches and cavity searches can be extremely invasive, humiliating, and embarrassing, these searches are sometimes necessary, and allowed under the law.

So just when can the police force you to undergo a strip search?

As with all police searches, police generally need a reasonable suspicion that you are concealing a weapon or contraband in the area the officer wishes to search. This means that there must be specific facts or circumstances that justify a strip search or body cavity search.

So if a police officer reasonably believes that you may be hiding drugs, weapons, or any other illegal object under your clothes, the officer may be able to order you to undergo a strip search. Some factors that can potentially justify such a search may include the suspect acting high or having drug paraphernalia lying around.

Not surprisingly, such justification is often the focus of civil lawsuits.

If you are taken to a jail house or prison, however, authorities may have even more leeway to order a strip search. Due to special concerns surrounding safety and security in jail facilities, corrections officers may intrude on someone's rights as long as the intrusion is related to reasonable objectives. This is true even if they do not have an individualized suspicion that you are hiding anything.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld such strip searches behind bars. And these types of searches can be allowed even if the person was arrested for a non-violent crime like a traffic stop or littering.

Outside of jail or prison, it can be very difficult to determine just when a police officer has "reasonable suspicion" to perform a strip search or body cavity search, and it will depend upon the individual circumstances surrounding your arrest. If you believe that you have been unlawfully searched, you may want to contact an attorney to learn more about your rights.

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