NY3: Forced prison body cavity search was unreasonable

Defendant’s forced body cavity search in prison was unreasonable under all the circumstances. People v. Holton, 2018 NY Slip Op 02836, 2018 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 2830 (3d Dist. Apr. 26, 2018):

The Court of Appeals has explained that “[t]he preeminent decision examining the constitutional dimensions of searches that involve police intrusion into a person’s body is Schmerber v California (384 U.S. 757 [1966])” (People v Hall, 10 NY3d at 307). Speaking to the validity of a body cavity search incident to arrest conducted at a police station, the Court explained that “it is evident that the location of a search is not the determinative factor under Schmerber because that decision prohibits all warrantless intrusions into an arrestee’s body if there is no probable cause and exigent circumstances established, regardless of where the search occurs” (id. at 310 n 7; but see People v More, 97 NY2d 209, 214 n [2002]). This stricter legal standard applies “[b]ecause a manual body cavity search is more intrusive and gives rise to heightened privacy and health concerns” (People v Hall, 10 NY3d at 309).

Here, there was probable cause, but no showing or claim of an emergency (see People v Hall, 10 NY3d at 312-313). Considering that defendant was lying face down, naked and handcuffed, it is evident that the officers could keep him under full surveillance without any concern that the wrapped drugs would be absorbed into his body while efforts were made to procure a warrant (see People v More, 97 NY2d at 214). Nor was any attempt made to seek the assistance of medical personnel to secure the contraband in a safe, hygienic manner (see Harris v Miller, 818 F3d at 59). Also, the record is unclear as to whether Valls was wearing gloves. Under the second Bell factor, the manner in which this search was conducted was not reasonable. Given the above, we conclude that the search was conducted in violation of the Fourth Amendment and that the recovered drugs should have been suppressed. Accordingly, the judgment of conviction must be reversed, defendant’s motion to suppress the contraband granted and the indictment dismissed.

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