Texas HC 324, protecting against public strip searches and body searches during traffic stops
House Bill HC 324 was unanimously passed and is scheduled to go into effect next month. If you haven’t been following it the Bill basically states that there should be a requirement that a peace officer obtain a search warrant before conducting a body cavity search during a traffic stop.
You may be wondering why a law would be required when the 4th amendment of the constitution should establish that public body searches without a warrant because of a traffic violation is expressly prohibited. The whole reason for this law is a series of Texas cases where women have been pulled over by police officers for minor traffic offenses like speeding or failing to stop at a stop sign, and then stripped and body cavity searched on the side of the road because police officers thought they were suspicious.
These cases have been characterized as sexual assaults or at the very least intentional public humiliation. In these cases drugs have stated as the reason for the roadside forced cavity searches. The victims being searched have been typically been women (usually young women of color). The officer usually has the time and calmness of mind to actually call a female officer to the scene to do the cavity searches. In one particular case the female officer did not switch gloves between the cavity searches of different women. Apparently, none of these officers actually thought about taking the women into custody to do these searches instead of doing the searches publicly. The reason being that there was probably insufficient evidence for probable cause to take the women into custody in the first place.
To me whether or not drugs were found is beside the point because if there wasn’t probably cause to arrest and search these women in custody instead of the side of the road then there wasn’t probably cause to search them at all. I am not sure when we became an ends justify the means type of country when it comes to women and minorities. I was rather optimistically hopeful that people would be standing up for due process, innocent until proven guilty, and burden of proof. That means even the worse criminals have rights. But reading the comments on some of these stories makes me sad because overwhelmingly many believe that if you commit any infraction whether for speeding or having less than a half of gram of weed then officers are
free to do whatever they want because any infraction makes someone a criminal and criminals deserve whatever treatment they get.
Oddly the officer defense has been that these are routine by the book stops and consistent with training. In other words if a woman is suspicious and you pull her over for running a stop sign or speeding an officer may ask her ” do you consent to a body search or do you want to be arrested?” If she does not consent she will be resisting arrest and publicly exposed, cavity searched and humiliated. If she does consent to a pat down and then resists a public body cavity search she will be resisting arrest and it will be done anyway. If she is scared and feels like she has no choice then she consented to public humiliation and assault (which by the way is still assault regardless of consent in my opinion because consent to physical assault given out of fear is not consent). To me that is a license to any officer to pull over any woman for any traffic violation and basically threaten and sexually assault her publically. Police departments have typically stood by these roadside strip cavity searches, which is why House Bill HC 324 has sadly been necessary.
I would like to thank our men and women in the Texas legislature for doing the right thing by passing this law because it unequivocally takes away the defense that officers are just following procedure when they are in fact violating constitutional rights.
To read the actual text of the bill click here.