JAILS / CORRECTIONS
10th Circuit: Strip Searches in Jails / Detention Centers
by Jack Ryan, J.D.
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Archuleta v. Wagneri provided an example of the United States Court of Appeals analysis of strip search cases.
Mrs. Archuleta, the mother of nine children was riding with her husband when they were stopped for a motor vehicle violation. Notwithstanding the fact that her husband was driving, Mrs. Archuleta was asked for identification. Following a check for warrants, Mrs. Archuleta was arrested and taken to the local jail. It was noted that Mrs. Archuleta was not the person who was wanted and she continually protested this mistake in identity.
The court described her experience at the jail as follows:
At the facility, Ms. Archuleta was frisked two more times in the waiting area. She pleaded mistaken identity with Deputy Mandelko, a booking officer on duty. After Deputy Mandelko found the correct file on her computer, it was apparent to her that Ms. Archuleta did not have the moles or tattoos that the computer file stated she was supposed to have because Ms. Archuleta was wearing shorts and a sleeveless blouse. Deputy Mandelko asked Ms. Archuleta "where are your moles and tattoos?" and told a receptionist "this isn't her." Deputy Mandelko continued to process and strip search Ms. Archuleta nonetheless, knowing Ms. Archuleta was the wrong person, was not to be placed in the general prison population, and had not been charged with a crime involving weapons or drugs.
As she was standing naked, Ms. Archuleta began to lactate. Ms. Archuleta tried to cover herself but was told by Deputy Mandelko to put her arms down. Deputy Mandelko told a male jailer to cut a maxi-pad in half for Ms. Archuleta to use. He did so, although neither the male officer nor Deputy Mandelko were wearing gloves while handling the pad. Ms. Archuleta was continually mocked by Deputy Mandelko and the male officer during this incident and Deputy Mandelko told Ms. Archuleta that she knew she was innocent.
Ms. Archuleta was then taken to a holding room before being placed in a cell by herself for several hours. Her husband posted bail and she was released. The charges against her were eventually dismissed.
The United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit began its analysis by outlining its previous rulings on strip searches at a jail. The court asserted:
We have articulated two primary concerns in determining whether a strip search is reasonable for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment: whether a detainee is to be placed in the general prison population and whether there is reasonable suspicion that the detainee has concealed weapons, drugs, or contraband. See Warner v. Grand County, 57 F.3d 962, 964 (10th Cir. 1995); Hill, 735 F.2d at 394. "Courts have consistently recognized a distinction between detainees awaiting bail and those entering the jail population when evaluating the necessity of a strip search under constitutional standards." Cottrell, 994 F.2d at 735. In this case, Ms. Archuleta alleges that she never intermingled with the general prison population but rather was "confined in a cell by herself for several hours" before her husband posted bail. Complaint P 84. The obvious security concerns inherent in a situation where the detainee will be placed in the general prison population are simply not apparent here.
In this case, based upon the clothing Ms. Archuleta was wearing, the three "pat downs" she endured prior to being booked, and the absence of any tattoos or moles indicating she was the culprit, Deputy Mandelko could not reasonably suspect the Ms. Archuleta had a weapon on her person.
The court outlined the jail’s argument as follows:
The crime for which Ms. Archuleta was charged can provide some cause for suspicion, but it must be one "commonly associated by its very nature with the possession of weapons or contraband" to help provide reasonable suspicion for a strip search. Hill, 735 F.2d at 394 (quoting Logan v. Shealy, 660 F.2d 1007, 1013 (4th Cir. 1981)). The complaint alleges that the arrest warrant was for a municipal "harassment" violation, Complaint P 46, but "DV-Harassment" appeared on the warrant, apparently in an effort to comply with Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-6-801.6. Deputy Mandelko insists that the "DV" notation indicates it is a violent crime sufficient to justify a strip search because "domestic violence" is defined in Colorado as "an act or threatened act of violence upon a person with whom the actor is or has been involved in an intimate relationship" or "any municipal ordinance violation against a person or against property, when used as a method of coercion, punishment, intimidation, or revenge directed against a person with whom the actor is or has been involved in an intimate relationship." Aplt. Reply Br. at 6 (quoting Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-6-800.3). We disagree.
The actual harassment violation for which Ms. Archuleta was charged prohibits nothing more "violent" than when a person "strikes, shoves, kicks, or otherwise touches a person or subjects him to physical contact" "with intent to harass, annoy, or alarm another person." Lakewood, Co. Municipal Code § 9.50.040(A)(1). This is hardly an offense "commonly associated by its very nature with the possession of weapons," Hill, 735 F.2d at 394 (quoting Logan, 660 F.2d at 1013), and likely was classified as potential "domestic violence" because it was a "municipal ordinance violation" against an intimate under the Colorado statute rather than an actual violent crime, Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-6-800.3.
The United States Court of the Appeals for the 10th Circuit concluded that the case should go forward. The court held that the law was clearly established in the 10th Circuit that an arrestee cannot be strip searched even if they will briefly be placed in the general population unless there is reasonable suspicion to believe that they are concealing a weapon or contraband. In this case, Archuleta was not put into the general population at all and because of her light clothing and several pat-down searches there could not be reasonable suspicion to believe that she was in possession of a weapon or contraband.
i Archuleta v. Wagner, 523 F.3d 1278 (10th Cir. 2008).