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Massachusetts Court Determines Strip Search of Defendant Was Unsupported by Probable Cause

Last month, a Massachusetts appellate court issued an opinion in a Massachusetts drug case describing the circumstances under which a strip search is appropriate. In this case, the court held that the strip search conducted by police was unsupported by probable cause, and violated the defendant’s constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable searches. Thus, the court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress the narcotics that were recovered as a result of the search.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers were in an unmarked car in a high-crime area conducting surveillance. During their surveillance, the officers noticed the defendant, who was standing on the sidewalk outside an apartment complex. Over the course of 20 minutes, the defendant went in and out of the house several times. At one point, an individual approached the defendant, and the two went around the corner for a few moments before returning. Police officers believed that the defendant was engaged in the sale of narcotics.

When another individual approached the defendant, police followed as the two men walked around the corner. One officer saw the two men standing face-to-face, and believed he was witnessing a drug transaction. The officers stopped the other man, searched him, and found a bag containing about $20 worth of cocaine. Police then patted the defendant down, finding $20, but no narcotics. Police arrested the defendant, transported him to the police station and booked him. Because the officer believed that it was common for street-level drug dealers to conceal narcotics in their groin area, the officers instructed the defendant to undress. Once the defendant was completely naked, the officers saw a red bandana, and inside the bandana were seven packets of cocaine.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the seven packets of cocaine, arguing that the strip search violated his constitutional rights. The court determined that the police officers had reasonable suspicion to arrest the defendant for drug charges, but that the strip search was unsupported by probable cause. The court then granted the defendant’s motion, and the prosecution appealed.

On appeal, the lower court’s decision to grant the defendant’s motion was affirmed. The court explained that before police can conduct a strip search, “they must have probable cause to believe . . . that they will find a weapon, contraband, or the fruits or instrumentalities of criminal activity that they could not reasonably expect to discover without forcing the arrested person to discard all of his or her clothing.”

The court determined that there was not probable cause to support the strip search of the defendant. The court held that the evidence upon which the police were relying gave rise only to a reasonable suspicion that the defendant may have secreted narcotics in his crotch area, explaining that a finding of probable cause would require some “affirmative indication” that drugs or contraband was being stored near his crotch. Here, the officers were relying on general beliefs regarding all street-level drug dealers, and not on any information that was specific to the defendant. Thus, the court determined probable cause did not exist to believe that the defendant had stored narcotics near his crotch.

Have You Been Arrested for a Massachusetts Crime?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a Massachusetts crime after being subjected to an unreasonable or illegal search, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy. Attorney Patrick Murphy is a dedicated Boston criminal defense attorney who proudly represents clients who are charged with all types of crimes, including Boston drug crimes and gun offenses. To learn more about how Attorney Murphy can help you defend against the charges you are facing, call 617-367-0450 to schedule a free consultation today.