By Regan Joswiak*
Recently, there have been stories about body cavity searches conducted by police officers after an individual has been pulled over. In one case, two women were pulled over for speeding—but after the officer had a discussion with the driver, he ordered a body cavity search for both the driver and the passenger on the basis of the vehicle allegedly smelling of marijuana. The women later sued the department. Jennie Bui, the officer who was called to the scene by Officer Nathaniel Turner to perform the search, was fired. Turner was suspended.
The Fourth Amendment protects individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures. So, is this a violation of the Fourth Amendment? Are police officers allowed to perform such a search?
According to James Fitch, former SHSU Deputy Police Chief and now Lieutenant of the San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Department, there is a specific procedure for this type of search.
“Police officers are not allowed to perform body cavity searches on individuals. If the person is arrested, the jail facility can choose to do so, but they must have a reason for it,” Fitch said.
Some police department manuals that outline procedures can be found online, and the Austin police department manual, for instance, states that officers are not allowed to perform this type of search.
In terms of whether a warrant is needed and if medical personnel are necessary to perform a body cavity search, Fitch further explained the process.
“If a police officer was to want to get a body cavity search on someone that has not been arrested then they would have to get a warrant. A warrant like this is not easy to obtain because this would represent the ultimate government intrusion,” Fitch said. “In a correctional facility, cavity searches are performed by sight only. Basically a person is made to squat or bend over. If there was thought something was secreted inside the person, then this would definitely require a warrant and would probably be treated as a medical procedure.”
SLMS—Pointing Bearkats in the right direction.