Video footage has surfaced of two incidents in which women in Texas were subjected to roadside cavity searches by troopers in two different areas of the state.
Our Birmingham criminal defense lawyers know that in addition to such searches being humiliating and invasive, they were entirely unnecessary and against the law.
Both law enforcement agencies have since called the searches “inappropriate,” as the women have filed lawsuits against the state for personal privacy violations. One of the troopers involved was fired, though she was later reinstated after an internal investigation revealed that she was relatively inexperienced and was acting on the direction of a more senior male officer.
While we hope that these women are able to obtain just compensation through the civil court system, the ordeal bears relevance for those in Alabama who are stopped by road patrol officers, even for minor offenses. Indeed, in these cases, the women were suspected of minor offenses – littering and speeding. In these situation, the troopers had no cause to suspect the women of possessing any drugs. In fact, none were found – not in their vehicles and not in them.
Here is the reality of roadside searches: The courts have given police fairly broad latitude with regard to the search of your motor vehicle. The presumption is that if you are driving on a public road, there is a valid public safety interest in assuring that you aren’t carrying contraband or aren’t otherwise posing a risk to yourself or others on the road.
The primary constitutional concern here is the Fourth Amendment. However, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996 ruled in Pennsylvania v. Labron that if a vehicle is readily mobile and probable cause exists to believe it contains contraband, police are permitted to search the vehicle without a warrant.
This does not negate your right to refuse. In the end, it may not stop officers from searching your vehicle. However, your clear expression of refusal could help you in court later on if it’s determined there were any issues with the legality of the search. For example, if your lawyer finds that adequate probable cause did not exist, he or she may request that all evidence found in that search be suppressed. However, if you don’t clearly refuse, prosecutors may be able to argue that you voluntarily allowed the search. So always be clear that you object to the search.
When it comes to breathalyzer tests, you also may refuse – but only with consequences. Alabama motorists by law accept something known as implied consent. This is the supposition that if you are driving a vehicle on public roads, it is implied that you will be subjected to a breathalyzer test. If you refuse, it will result in an automatic, one-year license suspension. Some people still refuse, not wanting to provide any additional evidence to prosecutors that could lead to a DUI conviction. In Alabama, per Alabama Code 32-5A-191, a DUI conviction result in a 90-day license suspension – but also up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,100.
However, invasive body cavity searches such as those reported in Texas are only allowable under a very strict set of circumstances – and not on the side of the road and certainly not with probable cause. An officer may pat you down to ensure you aren’t armed with deadly weapons, but a search of this nature violates not only ethical and moral codes, but legal ones as well.