ACLU Asks Virginia Jails for Strip Search Policies

Civil liberties group warns law enforcement personnel that recent Supreme Court decision is not a license to strip search

Richmond, VA – The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia has sent a Freedom of Information Act request to every sheriff and regional jail superintendent in Virginia seeking copies of the policies each uses to authorize strip searches.  The request comes less than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that detainees for even minor crimes may be strip searched by law enforcement personnel.

“Contrary to what many believe, the Supreme Court decision is not a license to expand strip searches in Virginia,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis.  “State law makes it clear that strip searches for minor crimes are prohibited in most circumstances, and that law has not been changed.”

Under 19.2-59.1 of the Virginia Code, individuals arrested for traffic infractions or Class 3 or 4 misdemeanors may only be strip searched in situations where law enforcement personnel  have reasonable cause to believe the arrestee is carrying a weapon.  In addition, all local law enforcement entities are required to have written polices so that arresting officers know when strip searches are permitted and when they are not.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders that the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments do not bar jail officials from requiring that every detainee who will be admitted to the general population be required to undergo a close visual inspection while undressed.  The Court’s 5-4 ruling was authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who cast the deciding vote.

Civil liberties and privacy rights groups have criticized the high court for unnecessarily expanding police power while dramatically reducing individual privacy.

“We hope that our request will show that all local and regional jails are acting in compliance with the Virginia law,” added Willis.  “This is not a time to back away from the policies we have in Virginia, but to strengthen them in order to ensure that the privacy rights of detainees are protected.”

The Freedom of Information Act request, which was made by ACLU of Virginia Dunn Fellow Thomas Okuda Fitzpatrick, was emailed to Virginia’s 145 sheriffs and regional jail superintendents yesterday.  A copy of the FOIA letter may be viewed at: https://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/20120405FOIASheriffStripSearch.pdf.  The full text of 19.2-59.1 may be read online at http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?000+coh+19.2-59.1+500228

Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804-644-8022