Bill Would Allow Strip Searches for Misdemeanor Crimes

In a 2012 decision, the Supreme Court evaluated the constitutionality of jail policies that required all inmates, including inmates suspected of minor offenses, to undergo routine strip searches prior to their admission to the general inmate population.

Several organizations comprised of jail officials, among others, submitted amicus curiae briefs in which they outlined the risks that accompany the admission of inmates to the general population. Deferring to their judgment and expertise, the Court concluded that the policies bore a reasonable relationship to “legitimate penological interests.” The Court reasoned that the policies provide jail officials with the means to detect and prevent the spread of contagious or communicable diseases, to identify and treat injuries that require immediate medical attention, to ascertain gang affiliation, and to prevent the introduction of contraband.

From that premise, the Court held that the policies struck an appropriate balance between the privacy of inmates and the security needs of jails. The Court declined to comment on the extent to which its holding would apply in circumstances where inmates are arrested without a warrant and detained without assignment to the general population. Thus, the Court’s holding, though amenable to a broad application, may be subject to a narrow, yet-to-be-recognized exception.

Section 25a of the Michigan Code of Criminal Procedure may soon align with the Supreme Court’s decision.  Section 25a currently prohibits jail officials from strip searching inmates arrested or detained for misdemeanor offenses or civil infractions absent probable cause to believe that they are concealing a weapon, a controlled substance, or evidence of a crime.

Senator Jones, a former jail administrator and sheriff, recently introduced a bill that would repeal Section 25a’s probable cause requirement and authorize jail officials to strip search inmates arrested or detained for misdemeanor offenses or civil infractions as a matter of course. The bill would leave Section 25a’s warrant requirement intact. According to Senator Jones, the Michigan Sheriff’s Association approached him to discuss the prospect of introducing the bill. Whether the bill will pass remains to be seen, but it will likely receive a vote in the fall session.

Lindsey Kaczmarek, an attorney in our Livonia office, concentrates her practice on municipal law and civil litigation defense.  She may be reached at (734) 261-2400 or lkaczmarek@cmda-law.com.