In all cases where a strip search is justified, the manner in which the search takes place must also be reasonable in order to meet 4th Amendment standards.  Thus, these searches should be done in a professional manner, using a searcher of the same sex (unless exigent circumstances exist), under sanitary conditions, without physical contact (unless exigent circumstances exist), and finally, done with a degree of privacy.


In the course of arrest law enforcement personnel are often called upon to conduct a strip search of a person.  These searches are viewed as intrusive and are subject to 4th Amendment restrictions.  While these searches are an important tool for law enforcement, they remain a dramatic liability exposure for agencies and agency personnel.  As such, this article outlines the legal parameters of a valid strip search for purposes of institutional security and encourages agencies and personnel to compare this material to their own practices, policies and training on strip searches.

In reviewing strip searches, one must recognize the issues involving strip searches.  First, there are two distinct types of strip searches.  The first is a strip search for evidence. This first type is not covered in this section. The second is a strip search for institutional security in the jail or lock-up setting.  Secondly, in all cases of a justified strip search, the search itself must still be reasonable.

It must also be recognized that the rules regarding strip searches for institutional security may vary depending on which particular United States Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over the jail where the search takes place. This variation will continue until such time as the United States Supreme Court takes on a strip search case and issues a bright-line rule for all jails to follow.

A survey of recent cases from each circuit is essential to an understanding of the legal issues involved and the decision making process with respect to strip searches.  Until the United States Supreme Court speaks on this issue, an agency’s policies, procedures, and practices must meet the standards of their particular circuit.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email