Committee Passes Legislation Allowing Strip Searches – Bill Headed to Assembly for Vote

Legislation (AB 556/SB 447) introduced by Rep. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukeville ) and Sen. Joe Leibham (R-Sheboygan) amends Wisconsin’s current law to allow strip searches if a person is lawfully arrested or detained by law enforcement and if the person will be incarcerated or detained in a jail or prison with one or more persons. Under current Wisconsin law, a person may be strip searched when arrested for any felony, for certain misdemeanors, or for any misdemeanor or civil violation if there is probable cause to believe that the person is concealing a weapon or something that would constitute evidence of the offense for which he or she has been detained.

The legislation is in response to a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court opinion, Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington et al., which held that jail administrators may require all arrestees who are committed to the general population of a jail to undergo visual strip searches not involving physical contact by corrections officers without having to show probable cause.

The Court explained the significant dangers associated with some detainees attempting to smuggle weapons, drugs, or other contraband into the jail. As the Court noted, “correctional officers have had to confront arrestees concealing knives, scissors, razor blades, glass shards, and other prohibited items on their person, including in their body cavities.”

The Court also explained that such searches are necessary to prevent new detainees from introducing lice or contagious infections. By allowing strip searches, correctional officers are able to identify and treat wounds or other injuries that could spread such diseases to the other detainees. Therefore, the Court held that such searches do not violate the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

AB 556 passed out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee and is scheduled to be voted on in the full Assembly next week.