March 24, 2014 – A jail strip search revealed that Jimmie Minett was hiding drugs. Recently, a state appeals court ruled that the suppression of evidence obtained from a strip search, even if it violated state statute, is not an available remedy.
Police had probable cause to arrest Minett for selling heroin. Upon arrest, he told officers he had no drugs on him, but the officers suspected that he did. Three male officers conducted a strip search and found heroin hidden in his underwear.
Wisconsin’s strip search law, Wis. Stat. section 968.255, requires persons conducting the search to obtain the prior written permission of the jail administrator.
The law also requires strip searches to be conducted outside the view of third persons, and requires those conducting the search to prepare a report that identifies them, as well as the time and place of the search. The detained person must receive a copy.
Minett said the officers conducting the search violated the statute because they did not get written authorization, and did not give Minett a copy of the report. He also said two officers were mere “witnesses,” and strip searches must be closed to the view of others.
The circuit court denied Minett’s motion to suppress on the ground that the jail officers “substantially complied” with the statute. Minett pleaded guilty and appealed.
In State v. Minett, 2013AP634-CR (March 19, 2014), a three-judge panel for the District II Court of Appeals ruled that suppression of evidence is not a remedy for violations of Wisconsin’s strip search law. It did not decide whether violations occurred or not.
The panel noted that section 968.255 enumerates specific remedies, and suppression of evidence is not among them. Officers who violate the strip search law are subject to fines, imprisonment, or civil damages. The statute says nothing about suppression.
“This is a regulatory statute aimed at controlling law enforcement officers’ conduct via criminal penalties,” wrote Chief Appeals Court Judge Richard Brown.
Judge Brown said a suppression motion might be an adequate remedy if police violated constitutional protections, but not if they violate Wisconsin’s strip search statute. “[T]he violation of the statute provides no basis for a suppression motion,” he wrote.
Bill Expands Preconviction Strip Search Authority in Wisconsin Jails – WisBar InsideTrack, March 19, 2014 (login required).