Police Officer’s Intrusive Body Search Ruled Unconstitutional

By Bryan Le 08/28/17

The invasive roadside search for marijuana was found to have violated the Fourth Amendment rights of the suspect.

Female officer arresting woman in an aggressive manner.
While the search yielded a marijuana blunt, the search itself was ruled overly invasive.

The Indiana Court of Appeals has judged a genital search by a police officer with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department as overly invasive and in violation of the female suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Taccasia Porter was a passenger in a vehicle stopped by police in October 2016. During the stop, the female officer detected the smell of marijuana and had Porter step out of the vehicle and submit to a search. 

When nothing was found during the initial search, the officer "pulled Porter’s jeans away from her body and inserted her hand inside Porter’s jeans" on the side of a public road, according to court documents. "After feeling an object inside Porter’s underwear, the officer then stuck her hand inside Porter’s underwear, next to her genital area, and retrieved a marijuana blunt."

The judges did not find this course of action permissible.

"While the initial pat-down search was permissible, we find that the subsequent search ran afoul of both the federal and state constitutions," wrote Judge John G. Baker. "All of this took place in a public area on the side of a road, with no evidence that any precautions were taken to protect Porter’s privacy from pedestrian or vehicular passersby or the two men on the scene."

Such an invasive body search requires probable cause, explains Jeannine Bell, a law professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law in Bloomington. To determine the legality of such invasive searches, the justification, location and manner of search must be considered. Bell also adds that a significant factor is what the search was for—searching a suspect’s person for a dangerous weapon is easier to justify than searching for contraband.

This case has gained traction because of its similarity to other invasive body searches carried out by law enforcement.

In June of 2015, two female police officers took turns alternately holding a flashlight and kneeling to use their fingers to search a female suspect’s genitals. The search, undertaken in the public parking lot of a convenience store, took 11 minutes. A grand jury opted not to indict the officers and the woman has filed a lawsuit against the Texas county for the illegal search.

The students of Worth County High School are filing a class action lawsuit against the Worth County Sheriff's Office after 900 students were suddenly subjected to K9 drug-sniffing dogs and warrantless, invasive pat-downs on students—a search that ultimately uncovered no drugs whatsoever.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter