Is Legal for to Conduct a Strip Search After Arrest on Traffic Charges?

Maryland Criminal Attorney Brian Thompson successfully defends client charged with Possession with Intent to Distribute Cocaine. The issue in this case was whether or not the police can conduct a strip search on a person who is arrested for a traffic violation. In Maryland, the police have the discretion to arrest or to simply issue citations and release people who are charged with incarcerable traffic violation such as Driving Under the Influence or Impaired by Alcohol, Driving While Suspended, Driving Without Insurance, Hit and Run, etc., In most instances, so long as the person is able to be conclusively identified, the officer with cite and release
However, in cases where the police are unable to conclusively identify a person because the person does not have proper identification or in situations where the police want the excuse to search the person’s vehicle, they will arrest for these violations. My recent case falls into the latter category. Here are the facts:

My client was driving a vehicle in the Essex area of Baltimore County one afternoon this past summer. He drove by a police officer who knew him and believed him to have a suspended license. The officer confirmed this information through dispatch and pulled my client over. Suspecting that my client was “riding dirty” (was in possession of drugs) the officer placed him under arrest for the violation and conducted a search incident to the arrest of both my client’s person and the vehicle. This is all perfectly proper and legal for the police to do but did not result in the recovery of any contraband.

The officer next transported my client back to the police station where he requested and received permission to conduct a strip search. The officer attempted to justify the strip search by stating that he knew my client and that he was a “known drug dealer” with a “substantial criminal history”. He conducted the strip search and recovered 27 grams of crack cocaine from my clients underpants.

At trial I filed a motion to suppress the evidence because it was recovered pursuant to an illegal strip search. The leading case on this is Nieves v. State, 383 Md 573. In that case the Maryland Court of Appeals made clear that conducting a strip search on a person who has been arrested for traffic violations is unreasonable unless the officer has specific information linking the defendant to narcotics trafficking. I pointed out to the trial court that although my client has several arrests for narcotics felonies he only had two drug convictions both of which were for simple possession of marijuana. I cross examined the officer as to his basis for stating that my client was a “known drug dealer” and the officer could only back up that statement with rumors and innuendo. Ultimately the court found his testimony and that State’s arguments unconvincing and suppressed the evidence. The State was left with no choice at that point but to dismiss the charges and release him.

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