The Constitutional Issues and Civil Liability Implications for Strip Searchers Performed on Pretrial Detainees and Suspects

Che D. Williamson, Sam Houston State University

The purpose of this paper is to discuss Constitutional issues and the civil liability of law enforcement for strip searches performed on pretrial detainees and suspects. Recently, there has been a substantial amount of litigation concerning the constitutional parameters of strip searches performed on citizens who are detained, arrested or jailed prior to making bail. Various courts have construed what constitutes an "unreasonable" search differently. What is "justification" for such a search and under what circumstances a strip search can be conducted are issues that remained unsettled by case law. This paper will analyze what appear to be the common considerations of courts on these issues and propose law enforcement policies and guidelines that will comply with the Constitution as well as limit civil legal liability for the actions of law enforcement. In addition this paper will discuss the extent of civil legal liability for unconstitutional strip searches and how such liability can be avoided.

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Updated 05/20/2006