Consent to search your body: Where is the limit?

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the ruling of a District Court Judge where the consensual full body search of a man, including his crotch area, lead to a drug possession conviction.  The drug charges were a result of a full body search at an airport in 2010.  The defendant was pulled aside by law enforcement and asked for his consent to pat down his body, to which he consented.  In the course of the pat down, a law enforcement officer felt the defendant’s groin area which felt “hard and unnatural”.  Ultimately, law enforcement discovered 700 Oxycodone pills in his underwear and arrested him.

The legal issue with this case is an important one in criminal cases: does the consent to a body “pat down” include having your crotch searched?  The answer is not so clear.  The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said that the defendant in this case consented to the search, and was never under arrest during the search, meaning that he was free to leave at any time.  The Court ruled that he could have withdrawn his consent before law enforcement searched his crotch.  In his appeal to the 9th Circuit, the defendant in this case cited to a 1989 case which stated that consent to search did not include a crotch search.  The Court distinguished between the two different cases based on specific facts and actions of law enforcement officers in the two different cases.  As a result of the 9th Circuit’s opinion in this case, it seem that the specific facts of each encounter with law enforcement will govern if a consent to search includes a crotch search.

Ultimately, you are within your rights to refuse to give consent to search your body when you are not under arrest.  If you have been arrested and your body has been searched you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your rights.

Bill Barrett


This entry was posted in Blog and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.