D.S.C.: Strip search for gun in groin was reasonable on the totality: “the search was less than ideal, but so were the circumstances”

A patdown revealed a gun hidden in defendant’s groin area. His strip search on the street produced the gun hidden in his underwear. The record doesn’t show whether others saw the strip search, a factor in reasonableness, but it certainly was possible because it was well-lit and next to a busy six lane highway. But, all things considered, particularly that a gun was involved and not just drugs, after what can only be called a highly sensitive inquiry into the totality of circumstances and all the factors from the caselaw, the court finds this reasonable. United States v. Meyers, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 122133 (D. S.C. Aug. 3, 2017):

The Court finds the police were justified in performing the search at the gas station. Officer Wycoff had reliable information that Meyers was armed, and then he felt a gun located in a precarious spot. Moving Meyers to another site—or even a few feet—carried the risk that the gun could fire, harming Meyers, an officer, or a passerby. There was a clear danger to the safety of all involved and nearby, and the officers had no other safe option for trying to get the gun. This scenario strikes the Court as precisely the type of “exigent circumstances” that the Fourth Circuit has said would justify a public search. Amaechi, 237 F.3d at 364; compare Daniels, 323 F. App’x at 207 (finding officers were justified in searching underwear of defendant involved in drug distribution because the general connection between drugs and guns presented a legitimate danger to their safety), with Edwards, 666 F.3d at 886 (noting the government admitted there were no exigent circumstances requiring that the bag of drugs be removed while Edwards was on the street or that a knife be used to remove the bag).

In sum, the search was less than ideal, but so were the circumstances. The officers worked to protect Meyers’ dignity while also protecting people—including Meyers—from physical harm. That substantial need for the search outweighed the invasion of Meyers’ privacy, which the officers tried to minimize. Thus, the search was reasonable.

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