VA: RS not required for a jail book-in strip search

Reasonable suspicion is not required for a jail book-in strip search. Defendant was arrested for a drug offense, and he was freely moving around in book-in, but a search ultimately happened, and a baggie of cocaine was protruding from his rectum. Cole v. Commonwealth, 2017 Va. LEXIS 162 (Nov. 16, 2017):

As the Court noted in Florence, “[c]orrectional officials have a significant interest in conducting a thorough search as a standard part of the intake process,” as “[j]ails and prisons … face grave threats posed by the increasing number of gang members who go through the intake process,” and there is also a danger of introducing contagious diseases or not detecting a detainee’s “wounds or other injuries requiring immediate medical attention.” 566 U.S. at 330-31. “Detecting contraband concealed by new detainees, furthermore, is a most serious responsibility,” since “[w]eapons, drugs, and alcohol all disrupt the safe operation of a jail.” Id. at 332.

All of these factors—the danger of disease, gang-based violence, and the disruption of jail safety due to an underground economy trading in contraband—are even more important when people are detained in groups, because that is when the opportunity arises for disease transmission, violence, and illicit trade in, or competition for access to, contraband. Indeed, the Court observed that the introduction of contraband “could happen any time detainees are held in the same area, including in a van on the way to the station or in the holding cell of the jail.” Id. at 335-36.

Here, the Jail’s policy is for supervisors to authorize a strip search of incoming detainees, such as Cole, who have been charged with offenses involving drugs, weapons, or violence. Such detainees are held in the booking area, a “very mixed use” part of the Jail where the detainees are generally kept in group cells, are not handcuffed, and are able to move around the waiting area with some degree of freedom, such as going to the restroom unescorted. In these circumstances, many, if not all, of the factors motivating the Supreme Court’s decision in Florence apply to the Jail. Here, Cole’s detention in the booking area of the Jail presented similar concerns as noted regarding Florence’s detention.

In light of the evidence presented, there is no “‘substantial evidence’ demonstrating [the Jail's] response to the situation is exaggerated,” so “deference must be given to the officials in charge of the [J]ail.” Id. at 330 (citation omitted). We also note, without deciding whether such additional restrictions are necessary, that the Jail’s policy to strip search only those new detainees charged with offenses involving drugs, weapons, or violence, and only with approval from a supervisor, further demonstrates that the Jail’s response to legitimate security interests was reasonable. Finally, we note that, although Cole’s argument was made in the context of the inevitable discovery doctrine before the circuit court, he effectively acknowledged that he would have the opportunity to dispose of the Strip Search Evidence while in booking and prior to his transfer to the Jail’s general population. This acknowledgement affirms that the Jail’s security concerns were legitimate, and that its policy to strip search new detainees charged with offenses involving drugs, weapons, or violence was a reasonable response to those concerns.

Accordingly, we hold that the Court of Appeals did not err by reversing the circuit court’s initial decision to grant Cole’s motion to suppress the Strip Search Evidence. Thus, although the Court of Appeals erroneously declined to reconsider its pretrial decision, the Court of Appeals’ judgment was correct in concluding that there was no constitutional infirmity in the admission of the Strip Search Evidence, and we affirm that part of the Court of Appeals’ judgment. Perry v. Commonwealth, 280 Va. 572, 579, 701 S.E.2d 431, 435 (2010) (“Under the right result for the wrong reason doctrine, it is the settled rule that however erroneous … may be the reasons of the court for its judgment upon the face of the judgment itself, if the judgment be right, it will not be disturbed on account of the reasons.”) (alteration, citation, and internal quotation marks omitted).

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