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December 15, 2017

The ACLU of Virginia today sent a letter to Senator Janet Howell asking her to strike down SB68, which would enable law enforcement officers to conduct invasive and humiliating strip searches on certain people accused of minor crimes or traffic infractions. 

If SB68 becomes law, people stopped for minor misdemeanors and traffic infractions could be subjected to strip searches based on nothing more than a “reasonable cause to believe” by the arresting officer that this person possess drugs, which are often described by courts as nothing more than a hunch.

Currently, as the Code of Virginia currently allows, if there is reasonable cause to believe someone is concealing a weapon, an officer may order a strip search to protect their safety and the safety of those in jail. If an officer has probable cause to arrest someone for drug charges, and the officer has reasonable suspicion this suspect is hiding drugs on their body, then this officer can order a strip search.

If SB68 goes into effect, law enforement officers would be able to use it as a pretext for arresting and strip searching someone without probable cause to believe they are in possession of drugs.  Virginia must respect the privacy and dignity of those accused of very minor crimes and traffic infractions; and, for that reason, we oppose Senator Howell's proposal to expand an officer's discretion to conduct strip searches.

"We must continue to demand higher standards of constitutional policing from our law enforcement community," wrote the letter.