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Since 1985, the United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit has restricted the authority of jails to conduct strip searches of arrestees upon entry to the jail.i

As with many of the early strip search cases, Jones began with an unleashed dog wandering the neighborhood in North Platte, Nebraska.  The animal control officer, who lived in the area, knew that the dog belonged to Jones from prior violations.  The animal control officer attempted to have Jones sign a citation for the dog running at large but Jones refused and slammed his door in the officer’s face.  The animal control officer sought the assistance of a police officer, but again Jones refused.  The officers went to the local prosecutor and a warrant was signed for the arrest of Jones.  Jones was arrested the following morning and brought to the jail.  While being processed, Jones was strip searched.  He filed a lawsuit and lost his case before a jury which prompted the appeal before the 8th Circuit.

In analyzing the case the court noted that numerous other circuits had concluded that strip searches of arrestees brought into a jail for a minor offense violated the 4th Amendment.  The court also noted that many of these decisions relied on the balancing test applied by the United States Supreme Court in Bell v. Wolfish.ii

The court concluded:

Although we recognize that the security of detention facilities is an important concern of correction officials who are, in part, responsible for the safety of their charges, we also recognize that security cannot justify the blanket deprivation of rights of the kind incurred here. 4 Accordingly, we find that the district court erred in failing to grant Jones’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and we remand for determination of the proper damages to remedy this constitutional deprivation.

Thus, the United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit also rejected blanket strip search policies for jails in that circuit.

A recent case from the United States District Court of Minnesota provides an example of how courts in the 8th Circuit apply the court’s precedent on strip searches.iii

The court outlined the fact of Engeseth as follows:

On or about the evening of September 19, 2002, Plaintiff was pulled over while driving south on Highway 65 in Isanti County. Plaintiff Dep. p. 11. He was given a field sobriety test, arrested on the charge of gross misdemeanor driving under the influence, and placed in the back of a squad car. Id. Plaintiff testified that he was scared to go to jail, so while he was sitting in the back of the squad car, he offered to the officer information regarding “wanted people or some drug dealers.” Id. p. 14. The officer told Plaintiff that someone would talk to him about his information when they got to the jail. Id.
At the Isanti County Jail, Plaintiff was asked some general background questions, and asked to empty his pockets.  Id. p. 17. He was then put into a jail cell. Id. A short time later, an officer entered Plaintiff’s cell holding jail clothes, and told Plaintiff to remove his clothes. Id. The officer then looked into Plaintiff’s mouth, behind his ears and made Plaintiff lift his genitals so the officer could look underneath. Id. p. 19. Plaintiff was then asked to bend over and spread his buttocks and cough. Id. After the strip search, Plaintiff was told to put on the jail clothes. Id.

A short while later, Plaintiff was brought to a room to speak with an investigator. Id. p. 21. During this interview, Plaintiff told the investigator that he knew people who did drug deals. The investigator asked Plaintiff if would participate in a controlled buy, and the Plaintiff responded that he didn’t know. Id. p. 23.

The policies in place at the jail at the time were quoted as follows:

2. Isanti County Jail Intake Policies and Procedures – Pre 2003

The Isanti County Jail Intake Policies and Procedures (the “Policy Manual”) in place at the time of Plaintiff’s arrest included Booking Procedure Steps I and II. Moccio Aff., Ex. A. Pursuant to Step II (6):

If it is unknown that a prisoner will be spending more than six hours in jail, or is moved from holding cell to the general population of the facility, he shall be bathed, searched, and given jail clothing. Id. p. 4.

The next section of the Policy Manual is entitled “Searches.” This section provides for the manner in which searches of inmates during the booking process will be conducted. Id. p. 5. Pursuant to section (2), “Prisoners charged with a gross misdemeanor or Felony and all sentenced prisoners will be given a strip search during booking.” Id. Section (3) provides that prisoners charged with petty misdemeanor, misdemeanor or ordered to jail because of civil detention will be given a modified strip search – only outer clothing is to be removed. Id. The Policy Manual further provides that:

any prisoner, regardless of the charge, may be given a full strip search if the arresting officer or jailor has a suspicion that the individual prisoner is concealing an item of contraband. If a prisoner who would normally receive a modified strip search is given a full strip search, the reason for the deviation from normal procedures will be documented and placed in the prisoner’s file.

In its review the of the strip search at issue in this case, the court provided a review of 8th Circuit precedent on strip searches in jails:

In the Eighth Circuit, a reasonable suspicion standard has been applied with respect to strip searches of temporary detainees charged with minor offenses. See eg., Jones v. Edwards, 770 F.2d 739 (8th Cir. 1985) (strip search of individual arrested for failing to sign a summons and complaint arising from a leash law violation was unconstitutional); , John Does 1-100 612 F. Supp. 1069, 1070 (D. Minn. 1985) (finding suspicion must be individualized or directed to the person who is targeted for a strip search). See also, Hunter v. Auger, 672 F.2d 668, 674 (8th Cir. 1982) (finding strip searches of a jail visitor are constitutionally permissible if based on a reasonable suspicion that the visitor will attempt to smuggle in drugs or contraband).

In applying the law to this case, the court concluded that there was a genuine issue as to whether the strip search in question was supported by reasonable suspicion, notwithstanding the plaintiff’s statements to officers about identifying drug dealers.  Additionally, the court asserted that there was also an issue with respect to the policies of the jails which seemed to allow strip searches on less than reasonable suspicion.  Finally, based on the testimony of the officers involved, who were unable to remember their training or who had taught constitutional principles to new personnel, the court found that there was also an issue of lack of training with respect to strip searches.


i Jones v. Edwards, 770 F.2d 739 (8th Cir. 1985).

ii Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520 (1979).

iii Engeseth v. County of Isanti,  2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 78694 (Dist. Minnesota 2007).

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