A person's constitutional rights don't end once police officers have placed them under arrest and taken them to jail. Because of the special concerns surrounding safety and security in jail facilities, however, corrections officers may intrude on a prisoner's rights more than is allowed in other circumstances as long as the intrusion is related to reasonable objectives such as a strip search after an arrest.
Strip Searches in Jail
In many cases, these intrusions involve strip searches and/or body cavity searches of arrestees. These types of inspections are highly invasive, but jails and prisons regularly carry them out in order to prevent smuggling of drugs, weapons or other contraband. These types of searches sometimes even occur when the arrestee has not been charged with a violent crime, and in the absence of factors that would give rise to a suspicion that the arrestee possessed concealed contraband.
For example, a person could find themselves arrested over a warrant for a traffic violation and subjected to a strip and/or body cavity search upon arrival at the jailhouse, even though nothing about their case would lead police to believe they had anything dangerous or prohibited on their person.
Inmate Strip Searches
The Supreme Court recently ruled in Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington that the practice of conducting strip searches on all inmates, regardless of an individualized suspicion or the severity of the underlying offense, does not constitute an unreasonable search and does not violate the Fourth Amendment. In a 5-4 decision split down ideological lines, the Court determined that penal institutions have an undeniable need to maintain safety and order within their facilities. Any requirement that would force penal institutions to exclude individuals from searches when there was no specific reason to suspect that the individual was concealing contraband would undermine the institution's interest in protecting its staff and inmates, according to the Court.
As a result of this decision, jails and prisons can now strip search new inmates upon arrival at the facility as long as the search is related to the facility's need to maintain safety and order. It is also possible for an individual to go through a strip search after an arrest even if the arrest warrant was issued in error, as was the case for the plaintiff in Florence.
Reasonableness of Strip Searches
While a search incident to arrest does not require a warrant or probable cause, a strip search incident to arrest might be an unreasonable violation of a person's right to privacy. The Supreme Court addressed this issue in Bell v. Wolfish, where the Court discussed the reasonableness of inmate strip and body cavity searches. In Wolfish, the Supreme Court balanced the interests of facility safety vs. inmate privacy by focusing on the reasonableness of the searches. Specifically, the Court said:
"Courts must consider the scope of the particular intrusion, the manner in which it is conducted, the justification for initiating it, and the place in which it is conducted."
Under this reasoning, a jailhouse strip search was allowed. Under different circumstances, such as outside his car for a speeding ticket, the same invasive search would have been illegal under the Fourth Amendment.
Protect Your Rights: Speak With a Criminal Defense Attorney
You obviously have fewer rights in the setting of a prison or jail, but you still have rights and are still protected by the Constitution. A qualified criminal defense lawyer can help make the case for bail and argue and negotiate on your behalf leading up to trial. You can get started today by contacting an experienced criminal defense lawyer in your area.