Pennsylvania Law Prohibits Strip Searches for Traffic Offenses and Other Nonviolent Misdemeanors
A 2008 decision from the Federal District Court of the Easter District of Pennsylvania (Martinez v. Warner) noted the following with respect to strip searches of arrestees:
Interpreting this rule, federal courts of appeals and trial courts in the Third Circuit have invalidated strip search policies as applied to nonviolent or misdemeanor offenders. See, e.g., Fuller v. M.G. Jewelry, 950 F.2d 1437 (9th Cir. 1991) (strip search unconstitutional after arrest for grand theft); Mary Beth G., 723 F.2d at 1272 (strip search unconstitutional after arrest for traffic offenses and other nonviolent misdemeanors); Newkirk v. Sheers, 834 F. Supp. 772 (E.D. Pa. 1993) (blanket strip and body cavity searches of pretrial detainees violated their Fourth Amendment rights); Ernst v. Ft. Lee, 739 F. Supp. 220 (D.N.J. 1990) (strip search policy unconstitutional on traffic offender absent evidence of reasonable suspicion that arrestee was in possession of a dangerous weapon, controlled substances or evidence of a crime); O’Brien v. Woodbury Heights, 679 F. Supp. 429 (D.N.J. 1988) (strip search unconstitutional after arrest for disorderly conduct); Davis v. City of Camden, 657 F. Supp. 396 (D.N.J. 1987) (strip search was unjustified pursuant to blanket policy encompassing all arrestees and in absence of actual suspicion that arrestee was concealing weapons or contraband).
Courts have frequently held that in order to strip search detainees, the arresting officers must have a reasonable individualized suspicion that a detainee is carrying or concealing contraband. “Individualized suspicion sufficient to warrant a strip search of such detainees may be based on such factors as the nature of the offense, the arrestee’s appearance and conduct, and any prior arrest record.” Newkirk, 834 F. Supp. at 788.
Thus, notwithstanding the fact that the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit has not addressed the issue of strip searches with respect to arrestees arriving at lock-up, the trial courts in the 3rd Circuit are applying the reasonable suspicion based standard and rejecting blanket strip search policies.