S.D.N.Y.: Search of DOC employee’s papers for drug soaked paper on entering prison was reasonable

Search of a NYC DOC employee’s belongings for drug soaked paper after passing the metal detector at Riker’s Island was reasonable either under special needs or because there is no reasonable expectation of privacy and it’s not even a Fourth Amendment search. She’s indicted federally for allegedly being bribed to bring drugs in, and the IG of the DOC and FBI were investigating. United States v. Lewis, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 162713 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 27, 2021):

The Court holds that even assuming arguendo that the examination constituted a Fourth Amendment search (which it did not, for reasons described below), the DOI agents’ inspection of Lewis’ purse was reasonable under the special needs doctrine. Lewis argues that the scope of the DOI agents’ search of her purse was unreasonable, because there was “nothing inherently suspicious about colored folders and blank pieces of paper,” and “nothing about these items suggested that they were contraband, thus requiring a more intrusive search of Ms. Lewis’ purse.” Id. at 6. But the Government identifies the specific workplace policy barring DOC employees from “enter[ing] into any transaction with an inmate” and from “carry[ing], convey[ing], or mak[ing] accessible to an inmate within a facility/command any intoxicant, opiate, narcotic, or other contraband article.” See ECF 14-2 at 7. The Government further presents records it obtained before the search reflecting Lewis’ account activity on the electronic payment platform CashApp, along with Rikers Island visitor logs. See ECF 14-6, 14-7, 14-8, 14-9. These records provide ample reason to believe that Lewis was smuggling contraband to inmates in exchange for bribes in violation of these workplace policies. The scope was also of “appropriate scope,” Leventhal, 266 F.3d at 75, given the multifarious means by which contraband is smuggled into jails (not to mention the DOI agents’ asserted awareness of how Lewis was smuggling drugs into the facility). See, e.g., United States v. Romain, 2015 WL 5920020, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 9, 2015) (describing how the defendant, a corrections officer, would “obtain … marijuana, package it in the fingers of latex gloves, and smuggle it into Rikers”).

Further still, there is an independent ground for denial of this prong of Lewis’ Motion: As the Government forcefully argues, the DOI agents’ examination of Lewis’ purse did not even amount to a search under the Fourth Amendment. “A Fourth Amendment ‘search’ … does not occur unless the search invades an object or area where one has a subjective expectation of privacy that society is prepared to accept as objectively reasonable.” United States v. Hayes, 551 F.3d 138, 143 (2d Cir. 2008). It is well established that employees at correctional institutions have a “significantly” diminished expectation of privacy, both as a function of the unique context of the “nature of their place of employment” (here, a jail) and because of “the notice provided by the Department in [its] rule book at the time of hire.” Sec. & L. Enf’t Emps., Dist. Council 82, Am. Fed’n of State, Cty. & Mun. Emps., AFL-CIO by Clay v. Carey, 737 F.2d 187, 202 (2d Cir. 1984). The Government has supplied the Court with the applicable DOC policy on the “Control of and Search for Contraband” as an exhibit to the Walker Affidavit. ECF 14-1. It provides, inter alia, that “[a]ll civilian and uniformed personnel, regardless of title or rank, shall be subject to search and inspection, including all carried possessions (e.g., packages, bags, etc.)” upon entry to the jail. Id. at 5. The policy also provides that “[r]egardless of their contents or point of origin, all … bags … are subject to a complete and thorough search when entering or departing a departmental facility.” Id. at 6. These DOC policies clearly notified Lewis that she had no reasonable expectation of privacy in any object she took into OBCC. Therefore, the DOI agents’ inspection of her purse was not a Fourth Amendment search.

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