Question: Does A Strip Search Violate The Defendant’s 4th Amendment Rights?
Answer: Not if A Lawful Arrest Has Been Made, Since Authorities May Conduct A Full Search Of The Arrestee For Weapons/Concealed Evidence So Long As The Search Is Not Extreme Or Patently Abusive!
In 2013, a police officer was driving home in her personal vehicle after her shift had ended. The officer observed a tan car exit a fast-food restaurant parking lot directly in front of her car. The tan car drove forward into traffic, hitting a red car in the left lane. Without stopping or exiting his car, the driver of the tan car, later identified as White, backed up, and then pulled forward in between the officer’s car and the red car, driving away north-bound. The officer reported the incident, turned her car around, and started following White. When White turned north onto Ralston Avenue, the officer lost sight of him. Other officers responded and stopped White’s car. During the stop, officers smelled a strong odor of raw marijuana on White’s person when he exited the car, as well as an odor of burnt marijuana inside White’s vehicle. The officers arrested White for leaving the scene of an accident. Following White’s arrest, no marijuana on his person. The officers searched the car and did not locate any marijuana inside the vehicle. After being placed in custody, White was transported to the Arrestee Processing Center (APC). At the APC, Marion County Sheriff’s Deputy performed a pat-down search of White. Because of the strong smell of marijuana emanating from White, the deputy also subjected White to a strip search. The strip search was done in private, with two deputies present. During this search, the deputy discovered two baggies near White’s buttocks inside his underpants. The baggies contained raw marijuana, as well as 3.1992 grams of cocaine. The State filed an Information, charging White with possession of cocaine, possession of marijuana and other charges. Thereafter, White moved to suppress the evidence discovered following his arrest which the trial court denied.
After being found guilty, White appealed contending that the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted the evidence resulting from White’s arrest and strip search. Specifically, White contends that the strip search at APC violated his 4th Amendment rights. The 4th Amendment provides, in pertinent part: “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated …” As a general rule, the 4th Amendment prohibits warrantless searches. When a search is conducted without a warrant, the State has the burden of proving that the search falls into one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement; a search incident to arrest is one such exception. Thus, a police officer may conduct a warrantless search of a person if the search is incident to a lawful arrest. In such situations, the search and the arrest must be “substantially contemporaneous,” and the search must be confined to the immediate vicinity of the arrest. The requirement of a contemporaneous search has been interpreted liberally, however, and Indiana courts have validated searches that do not occur until the arrestee arrives at a law enforcement facility, as long as the items searched are “found on the person of an arrestee” or are “immediately associated with this person.” Therefore, here, because White’s arrest was supported by probable cause, the contested strip search can be evaluated as a search incident to a lawful arrest.
Nevertheless, both Indiana case law and federal precedents place limits on searches incident to an arrest. The United States Supreme Court has held that once a lawful arrest has been made, authorities may conduct a “full search” of the arrestee for weapons or concealed evidence. No additional probable cause for the search is required, and the search incident to arrest may “involve a relatively extensive exploration of the person.” However, such a search would be unreasonable, and therefore a violation of the Fourth Amendment standard, if it were “extreme or patently abusive.” The Supreme Court has also rejected the general proposition that a routine, warrantless strip search incident to a lawful misdemeanor arrest is reasonable. Rather, carefully delineating the parameters, the court concluded that to the extent a search is conducted on the basis of jail security, the indignity and personal invasion necessarily accompanying a strip search is simply not reasonable without the reasonable suspicion that weapons or contraband may be introduced into the jail. The circumstances surrounding the arrest, rather than the offense itself, may give rise to a reasonable suspicion, and if so the search is justified.
Here, officers noticed a strong odor of raw marijuana on White’s person when he exited the car, as well as an odor of burnt marijuana inside White’s vehicle. Despite patting down White and searching his car, the officers did not locate any marijuana. Upon his arrest, White was transported to the APC. At the APC, the deputy conducted a strip search of White because of the strong odor of what appeared to be maybe marijuana. He reiterated that the odor raised a concern of contraband trafficking in the jail, possibly resulting in violence within the jail. The deputy conducted the search in private and located two baggies in White’s underwear. We conclude that although the underlying arrest constituted a misdemeanor, the strip search incident to White’s arrest was justified because of the officers’ reasonable suspicion that weapons or contraband would be introduced into the jail due to the lingering odor of marijuana which engulfed White even after having been transported to the APC. The strip search did not violate White’s 4th Amendment rights. 24 N.E.3d 535