Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Ninth Circuit: Sheriff Joe-Approved Cross-Sex Strip Searches Are Unconstitutional

with 2 comments

An Arizona pretrial detainee’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated when he was strip-searched by a female guard, the Ninth Circuit ruled last week in a sharply divided en banc decision. The case arose out of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s notorious Maricopa County jail system. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Bob Egelko sums up:

[Charles] Byrd was ordered to strip down to his shorts – colored pink, as required for all inmates by Joe Arpaio, the county’s hard-line sheriff – and was searched by a female cadet from a training academy. She said she had taken no more than 20 seconds, while Byrd estimated the time at a minute. No contraband was found.

“The right to be free from strip searches and degrading body inspections is … basic to the concept of privacy,” Judge Johnnie Rawlinson said in the majority opinion, quoting an earlier ruling.

No emergency existed, Rawlinson said, because male guards were present and could have conducted the search. She said the “humiliating event” was aggravated by the presence of onlookers, one of whom videotaped the search.

Dissenting Judge N. Randy Smith said the cadet had conducted the search professionally and, although it was “unsavory to our sensibilities,” the action met legal standards.

More reporting here from CNN; the full opinion can be downloaded here (PDF). For some background on Ninth Circuit case law on jailhouse strip searches generally, see my earlier post here.

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2 Responses

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  1. My name is Tammy Byrd, I am Charles Byrds wife. I know that there are people out there who seem to think that what happened to Charlie was funny or that he deserved it, because he was in prison.
    Charlie paid for what he did to society. What they did to him was take away his basic human rights. They broke there own rules, policies and regulations. This is very humiliating still for charlie. Its all over this internet. We are happy because he won and now maybe this won’t happen again, but personally for Charlie it is very embarrassing.

    Tammy Byrd

    August 23, 2011 at 3:01 pm

  2. Tammy and Charles, Thank you. In my opinion, you are absolutely correct. What happened to you Charles was unjust, unnecessary and indecent. You were a pretrial (presumed innocent) detainee and you had less rights and protections than a convicted axe-murdering female inmate. Old Joe pink-panties himself would never have tried a cross-gender stunt like that with a female inmate. Could you imagine if female inmates were told to strip down to their panties and bra, enter a day room, line up, and be subjected to a cross-gender search of the groin and breast area? Cross-gender humiliation and degradation is not part of anyone’s sentence, especially someone not even convicted yet.

    This case was never about equal employment opportunity for female guards. This was about recognizing a fundamental right not to be subjected to this totally unnecessary cross-gender degradation and humiliation, just as it has already been accepted on behalf of female inmates for some time now. This wasn’t about safety and security, it was about power-tripping and Abu-Ghraib-like humiliation as a tactic.

    Charles, I know you must have taken a lot of ridicule and mockery for this so please understand and know there are a lot of men out there whom you have helped. You have helped those men who endure these routine cross-gender indignities in correctional facilities across the country. Those men mostly remain silent, they swallow their shame and hurt, and they eventually emerge angrier than ever.

    There is absolutely no reason we, as a society, should be subjecting people to this ridiculous cross-gender humiliation and degradation lunacy on the grounds of “equal employment opportunity.” It is shameful. Inmates are not animals in zoo, they are human beings.

    Charles, please try to take pride in what you have done. You essentially got the U.S. Supreme court to agree with you and that is no small accomplishment.

    T

    September 28, 2011 at 9:40 pm


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