"The Fourth Amendment was designed to stand between us and arbitrary governmental authority. For all practical purposes, that shield has been shattered, leaving our liberty and personal integrity subject to the whim of every cop on the beat, trooper on the highway and jail official."--Herman Schwartz, The Nation
During a routine traffic stop, Leila Tarantino was allegedly subjected to two roadside strip searches in plain view of passing traffic, while her two children--ages 1 and 4--waited inside her car. During the second strip search, presumably in an effort to ferret out drugs, a female officer "forcibly removed" a tampon from Tarantino. No contraband or anything illegal was found.
A North Carolina public school allegedly strip-searched a 10-year-old boy in search of a $20 bill lost by another student, despite the fact that the boy, J.C., twice told school officials he did not have the missing money. The assistant principal reportedly ordered the fifth grader to disrobe down to his underwear and subjected him to an aggressive strip-search that included rimming the edge of his underwear. The missing money was later found in the school cafeteria.
that Georgia Tech alum Mary Clayton might have been attempting to smuggle a
Chik-Fil-A sandwich into the football stadium, a Georgia Tech police officer
allegedly subjected the season ticket-holder to a strip search that included a
close examination of her underwear and bra. No contraband chicken was found.
Gerald Dickson was handcuffed and taken into custody (although not arrested or
charged with any crime) after giving a ride to a neighbor's son, whom police
suspected of being a drug dealer. Despite Dickson's insistence that the bulge
under his shirt was the result of a botched hernia surgery, police ordered
Dickson to "strip off his clothes, bend over and expose all of his private
parts. No drugs or contraband were found."
Chicago, a 15-year-old boy accused by an anonymous tipster of holding drugs was
taken to a locker room by two security guards, a Chicago police officer, and a
female assistant principal, and made to stand against a wall and drop his pants
while one of the security guards inspected his genitals. No drugs were found.
Milwaukee police have been charged with carrying out rectal searches of
suspects on the street and in police district stations over the course of
several years. One of the officers is accused of conducting searches of men's
anal and scrotal areas, often inserting his fingers into their rectums. Half-way
across the country, the city of Oakland, California, has agreed to pay $4.6
million to 39 men who had their pants pulled down by police on city streets
between 2002 and 2009.
Angel Dobbs and her 24-year-old niece, Ashley, were pulled over by a Texas
state trooper on July 13, 2012, allegedly for flicking cigarette butts out of
the car window. Insisting that he smelled marijuana, the trooper proceeded to
interrogate them and search the car. Despite the fact that both women denied
smoking or possessing any marijuana, the police officer then called in a female
trooper, who carried out a roadside cavity search, sticking her fingers into
the older woman's anus and vagina, then performing the same procedure on the
younger woman, wearing the same pair of gloves. No marijuana was found.
these incidents show, as varied as they are, is that while strip searches may span
a broad spectrum of scenarios, the common denominator remains the same:
humiliation and degradation at the hands of government officials and a complete
disregard for privacy and human dignity. Unfortunately, in a judicial and
bureaucratic environment in which human dignity has been given short shrift and
largely discounted, the courts have increasingly erred on the side of giving government
officials--especially the police--vast discretion in carrying out strip searches
for a broad range of violations, no matter how minor the offense and no matter
how degrading, demeaning, or offensive to one's human dignity is that search.
the U.S. Supreme Court has been increasingly deferential to the state when
addressing the constitutionality of strip searches. For example, the Court's
ruling in Florence v. Bd. of Chosen
Freeholders of County of Burlington (2012) struck a blow to any
long-standing protections against blanket strip searches, declaring that any
person who is arrested and processed at a jail house, regardless of the
severity of his or her offense (i.e., they can be guilty of nothing more than a
minor traffic offense), can be subjected to a strip search by police or jail
officials without reasonable suspicion that the arrestee is carrying a weapon
or contraband. The five-man majority rationalized their ruling as being
necessary for safety, security, and efficiency, the government's overused and
all-too-convenient justifications for its steady erosion of our freedoms since
Florence ruling stemmed from the case
of Albert Florence, who was erroneously arrested for failing to pay a traffic
fine and forced to submit to two egregious strip and visual body-cavity
searches at two different county jails.
a nutshell, what Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority,
concluded was that it is impractical--"unworkable" was the phrase used--to expect
overworked jail officials to have to take the time to distinguish between
harmless individuals guilty of nothing more than driving without a seat belt and
those who pose a true threat and may be reasonably suspected of carrying drugs
or weapons. Consequently, any person who is arrested, no
matter how minor the alleged criminal act, can now be subjected to a degrading
strip search. Examples of minor violations that could now lead to a strip
search are many and include "violating a leash law, driving without a license, and failing to pay child support."
blanket strip searches are not for the faint of heart. A typical strip search,
as described in a prison manual and cited by Justice Stephen Breyer in his
a visual inspection of the inmate's naked body. This should include the inmate opening his mouth and moving his tongue up and down and from side to side, removing any dentures, running his hands through his hair, allowing his ears to be visually examined, lifting his arms to expose his arm pits, lifting his feet to examine the sole, spreading and/or lifting his testicles to expose the area behind them and bending over and/or spreading the cheeks of his buttocks to expose his anus. For females, the procedures are similar except females must in addition squat to expose the vagina.
the past, strip searches were resorted to only in exceptional circumstances
where police were confident that a serious crime was in progress. In recent
years, however, strip searches have become routine operating procedures in
which everyone is rendered a suspect and, as such, is subjected to treatment
once reserved for only the most serious of criminals.
matters worse, government agencies are increasingly exploiting cutting-edge
technologies that allow probing and examination of the intimate aspects of
persons that is for all intents and purposes equivalent to the excessive
intrusion inflicted by a strip search.
we have a long way to go in securing our privacy rights. It must be remembered
that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was intended to protect the
citizenry from being subjected to "unreasonable searches and seizures" by
government agents. While the literal purpose of the amendment is to protect our
property and our bodies from unwarranted government intrusion, the moral
intention behind it is to protect our human dignity. Unfortunately, the rights
supposedly guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment have been steadily eroded over
the past few decades. Court rulings justifying invasive strip searches as well
as Americans' continued deference to the dictates of achieving total security
have left us grasping for dignity.
pushing back against the state in order to secure our essential rights, we must
place our human dignity in a position of primary importance. Writing for the Wisconsin Law Review, attorney John D.
Castiglione proposes that human dignity, as defined, should stand alongside
privacy as a primary animating principle of the Fourth Amendment. As
Castiglione rightly points out: