Searches For Criminal Suspects

If a suspect is arrested for a crime they may be searched. Officers can search a person and the area they control in a “search incident to arrest.”


Police can also use social media and other records to investigate criminal suspects. These searches are not necessarily unlawful. However, they do violate a suspect’s right to privacy.

Arrest Searches

The police may search a person when they are in the process of arresting them for an offense. This is known as a “search incident to arrest.” There are specific circumstances in which the police do not need a warrant to conduct this search, but they must be able to show that the arrest is being conducted lawfully and that the search is necessary for the safety of the suspect.

During this time, the police may pat down a person’s outer garments or frisk them for weapons. They are also allowed to search the area that is immediately surrounding them, such as the home or apartment building in which they are being arrested. The reason for this is that the officer believes that a dangerous accomplice might be hiding inside the residence or apartment.

An example of this would be if an officer is in hot pursuit of a suspect and the suspect runs into a home or apartment building. The officers can then enter and search the interior of that home or apartment. The police must be able to show that the suspect has given them permission to do this or that there is probable cause that a dangerous accomplice is hiding inside.

During an arrest, the police can also ask the person to give them consent for a full-body search. This is often done because the police want to ensure that they do not have any weapons or other items on them that can harm the suspect or that might allow them to escape or hide evidence from the investigation.

Protective Sweeps

If officers have reasonable suspicion that the person they are arresting is in danger of attack from others in the home, they may do a protective sweep of the area around them. These are very limited searches that only involve a cursory inspection of places where people might hide. They are typically only done at the time of an arrest, and only in the path, walk or hallways that lead to or from the place where the suspect is being arrested.

If police conduct a full-scale sweep of the residence, they need to have more than just a reasonable suspicion that an individual posing a threat is in danger of attacking them. They also must have a legitimate governmental reason for entering the house, such as a search warrant. If they do not, any evidence that is found during the sweep may be excluded from the case by the judge at trial.

The scope of a protective sweep can be challenged by the defense. It is important to understand the rules governing this type of search because it could make a huge difference in your case. You may need to have a suppression hearing, where the judge will determine whether the search was lawful or not. A ruling that the search violated your rights is a big deal because it can impact the entire case, including whether certain evidence will be allowed to be introduced at trial.

Strip Searches

As the name suggests, strip searches entail disrobing an arrestee so that law enforcement can visually inspect them. Like full-body searches, they must be justified by a warrant. However, unlike general search warrants that allow police to “search all persons present,” strip searches require a specific, individualized suspicion of the possibility that an arrestee is concealing contraband inside body cavities such as the anal or genital area.

The Supreme Court recently upheld a jailhouse strip search policy, finding that it does not violate the Fourth Amendment when it’s an incident to arrest and when officers have a reasonable suspicion of the possibility that an inmate is concealing drugs or other contraband. The same is true when it’s conducted during a cellular phone search or after an escape attempt.

It is important for those who have been subject to a strip search to know their rights and that the procedure should only be used in the most necessary circumstances. Any other time, it could be considered an unwarranted violation of their privacy and dignity.

As such, it’s vital that officers consult with supervisors before conducting EIP searches, as per APP guidance from the College of Policing. Then, they must review the circumstances and their rationale in order to determine if the search is proportionate. As the recent case of Child Q has shown, such scrutiny is important.