Can the police conduct a body cavity search without a warrant?
No. A law passed in 2015 prohibits the police from conducting warrantless body cavity searches. Exceptions apply at airports and borders, as well as if a person is in a jail or prison.
The Backdrop of Body Cavity Searches
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution establishes the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Except for certain well-delineated exceptions, the Fourth Amendment prohibits law enforcement officers from conducting searches without a search warrant.
Most Texans remember dashcam footage from 2012 where a female Texas State Trooper probed the anuses and vaginas of two women during a traffic stop without so much as changing gloves, much less getting a warrant. The female Texas trooper made the traffic stop after officers saw cigarettes being thrown out of a car which they believed to be marijuana. The two occupants of the vehicle, 38-year old Angel Dobbs and 24-year old Ashley Dobbs, were asked out of the vehicle for a search. Instead of obtaining a search warrant, the female trooper conducted body cavity searches on both women, both anally and vaginally, as cars drove past. No marijuana was found in the vehicle or on either occupant, and the driver passed a DWI test. The trooper ended up only issuing a citation for littering.
Warrantless Body Cavity Searches are Illegal
Incidents involving body cavity searches have prompted concerns about the lack of policies among law enforcement agencies in Texas. In an effort to address this problem, the Texas Legislature created House Bill 324 to align certain law enforcement policies with the Fourth Amendment. The Bill (which became Texas law on September 1, 2015) amended the Code of Criminal Procedure to prohibit a peace officer from conducting a body cavity search of a person during a traffic stop unless a magistrate has issued a search warrant. The law defines “body cavity search” as an inspection that is conducted of a person’s anal or vaginal cavity in any manner. The term does not include a pat-down.
Exceptions to the rule on Body Cavity Searches
The border search exception allows agents to search without probable cause at international borders and airports. The police can also search the body cavity of a person who is in jail or prison to prevent weapons and contraband at correctional facilities.
Also published on Medium.