Court affirms suppression of drug evidence found in jail strip search

July 29, 2016

A trial court correctly granted the motion of a man arrested in Marion County to suppress drug evidence found in his buttocks after he was stripped search as a result of a misdemeanor battery charge, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed.

Dejon Pitchford was arrested on a preliminary charge of battery May 8, 2015, and taken to the Marion County Arrestee Processing Center. Sheriff’s deputy Mark Bunch conducted a strip search of Pitchford pursuant to department policy, which authorizes a strip search if one is charged with a crime of violence. Bunch considered battery to be a crime of violence.

After Pitchford had stripped down, he refused to cooperate with the search in which his buttocks would be spread apart. During his resistance, deputies noticed a plastic bag sticking out of his buttocks. The contents of the bag tested positive for cocaine and heroin. This led to felony drug charges and a misdemeanor resisting law enforcement charge.

Pitchford filed a motion to suppress, arguing the deputies had not reasonable suspicion to justify the search of a misdemeanor offender. The trial court granted the motion in November.

The COA affirmed, finding Edwards v. State, 759 N.E.2d 626 (Ind. 2001), controls. That court held routine, warrantless strip searches of misdemeanor arrestees, even when incident to a lawful arrest, violate Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution and the Fourth Amendment.

The state argued that Edwards has been abrogated by the United States Supreme Court decision in Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of Burlington County, 132 S. Ct. 1510 (2012), in which the majority court held the Fourth Amendment doesn’t prohibit strip searches of arrested persons before they enter a jail’s general population and also that people arrested for minor offenses are not excluded.

Judge Paul Mathias noted that even though Florence now allows the strip search under the Fourth Amendment, Edwards still requires the search pass muster under Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution.

“The clear holding in Edwards requires that a warrantless strip search of a misdemeanor arrestee be justified by reasonable suspicion, based on the totality of the circumstances, that the arrestee is concealing weapons or contraband. No such suspicion was reported in the present case, nor do we read Edwards as permitting the warrantless strip search of all defendants arrested for violent offenses,” Mathias wrote. “Here, Pitchford was arrested for misdemeanor battery, and nothing about the circumstances surrounding his offense or his arrest support a reasonable suspicion that he was concealing weapons or contraband. In short, the State has not established that the trial court’s decision was contrary to law.”

The case is State of Indiana v. Dejon Pitchford, 49A04-1512-CR-2173.


Recent Articles by Jennifer Nelson