JAILS / CORRECTIONS
1st Circuit: Strip Searches in Jails / Detention Centers
by Jack Ryan, J.D.
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The United States Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit cites Wood v. Hancock Countyi as one of the foundation cases settling the law on strip searches for its circuit.ii
In mid-2001, appellant Wood was arrested twice on misdemeanor charges and required to completely disrobe three times in the presence of correctional officers. The first two episodes occurred as part of his processing into the Hancock County Jail following the arrests. Although Wood characterizes these events as strip searches, the county defendants maintain that the encounters were "clothing searches" and that any observation of Wood's naked body was incidental to the correctional officers' purpose to examine his clothing. The third search occurred on the morning after Wood's second arrest, following a contact visit with his attorney. The parties agree that Wood was subjected to a strip search at that time, but disagree about its constitutionality.
In its review of the case, the court reviewed the jail’s policies which are quoted as follows:
[Jail] Policy No. C-120, titled "Admissions Procedures - Inmates Not Bailed," an individual who is being assigned to a housing unit in the jail - whether charged with a misdemeanor or felony - is subject to a clothing search and must shower after disrobing "in the presence of [a] Corrections Officer."
Jail Policy D-220 (Procedure C(1)), titled "Search Procedures," states that a pre-trial inmate charged with a misdemeanor offense - like appellant - is subject to a more intrusive strip search only if the officer "has reasonable suspicion that [the] inmate is concealing contraband and is about to come into contact with inmates of the facility."
A "clothing search" is defined as "the removal and search of all of an inmate's clothing," while a "strip search" is defined as "[a] visual search of an inmate which requires the removal of all clothing, to include a search of the clothes removed."
Policy D-220. Thus, individuals arrested for a broad range of minor offenses classified as misdemeanors, including failure to pay highway tolls or speeding, could be asked to disrobe completely and shower if they are unable to post bail and must be assigned housing. Only felony detainees and those suspected of carrying contraband are subject to the more extensive examination that the policy describes as a "strip search."
The three searches of Wood were described as follows:
Search # 1. On May 27, 2001, Wood was arrested on misdemeanor charges of domestic abuse and taken to the Hancock County Jail. He did not immediately post bail and therefore was required to shower and undergo a clothing search. He was escorted by a correctional officer into a room near the booking area known as "the nurse's station" or "medical room" and directed to disrobe, one article of clothing at a time, until he was naked. He was standing four to five feet from the officer. Wood contends that two officers were present, but jail records indicate that only Officer Christopher Rivers supervised the search and shower.
Officer Rivers testified that his standard practice in clothing searches is to instruct the inmates to turn over their underwear last and then to enter the nearby shower stall. Although Rivers said the objective of the search is to detect contraband in the clothing, he and a fellow officer, Chad Wilmot, both testified that they "maintain a visual" on the individuals as they disrobe and enter the shower. Rivers stated that, during the process, the inmates end up standing naked for "seconds," and Wilmot noted that "we're not physically inspecting them, having them raise their arms or anything like that, and we're also bringing clothes and a towel so that they can dry off and change up when they get out of the shower."
Search # 2. Wood was arrested again on July 10 and charged with violating a protection from abuse order. He again was brought to the Hancock County Jail and searched in similar fashion to the May occurrence. He remained at the jail overnight.
Search # 3. On the morning of July 11, appellant was twice visited by his attorney. Both encounters were "contact" visits, meaning that counsel and client were face-to-face without a glass partition or other divider separating them. Although jail policy calls for inmates to be strip searched after all contact visits, 7 appellant was not searched after the first session with his counsel. After the second, longer visit, however, as appellant and his counsel passed through the booking area, the booking officer stated that appellant needed to be strip searched pursuant to jail policy. He was taken into the same room where the previous searches had been conducted, and a full strip search was done. He was asked to fully disrobe, and then was ordered to stick out his tongue, hold his hands above his head, turn around, bend over, and manually spread his buttocks.
In its review of the case the court noted: “Our case law holds that an individual detained on a misdemeanor charge may be strip searched as part of the booking process only if officers have reasonable suspicion that he is either armed or carrying contraband. See Savard v. Rhode Island, 338 F.3d 23, 27 (1st Cir. 2003) (en banc) (opinion of Selya, J.), petition for cert. filed, 72 U.S.L.W. 3348 (U.S. Nov. 3, 2003) (No. 03-683); Roberts v. Rhode Island, 239 F.3d 107, 113 (1st Cir. 2001). In so concluding, we have recognized that "strip searches are intrusive and degrading and, therefore, should not be unreservedly available to law enforcement officers." Savard, 338 F.3d at 27. When such an intrusion is extended to relatively harmless offenders, "a severe incursion on privacy" occurs, Roberts, 239 F.3d at 111… Requiring particularized suspicion to strip search misdemeanant arrestees balances institutional security needs with individual privacy, which includes "a reasonable expectation not to be unclothed involuntarily, to be observed unclothed or to have [one's] 'private' parts observed or touched by others."
The court noted that for nearly two decades the cases in the 1st Circuit had defined a strip search as: "an inspection of a naked individual, without any scrutiny of the subject's body cavities."
The court concluded that the two entry searches, the changeout and showering process, were strip searches and did not meet the standards set forth by precedent regarding the need for individualized reasonable suspicion before such searches may be conducted.
In looking at the post-contact visit search, the court looked to the difficulty in jails for dealing with contraband. The court cited to cases from other jurisdictions as well as expert testimony indicating the serious institutional concerns over contraband being passed during contact visits. He court concluded that these concerns justified a blanket strip search policy for post-contact visits.
i Wood v. Hancock County, 354 F.3d 57 (1st Cir. 2003).
ii See, Tardiff v. Knox County, 365 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2004). ( The trend began with the Supreme Court’s decision in Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520 (1979). In this circuit, the leading cases are Wood v. Hancock County Sheriff’s Dep’t, 354 F.3d 57 (1st Cir. 2003); Miller v. Kennebec County, 219 F.3d 8 (1st Cir. 2000); Swain v.Spiney, 117 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 1997).)