Wednesday, July 24, 2024

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Strip Searches for a DUI Arrest? – Update

Steve ObermanAs a result of inquiries made regarding my earlier post discussing proposed legislation about allowing strip searches for DUI arrests and other misdemeanors in Tennessee, I am updating the information to better explain distinctions between legal decisions made in the federal court system and those made in the Tennessee court system.  These distinctions apply whether or not the case involves the issue of driving under the influence (DUI or DWI), but this post will address the issue as it relates to DUI cases.

In April of 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States found that “[c]orrectional officials have a legitimate interest, indeed a responsibility, to ensure that jails are not made less secure by reason of what new detainees may carry in on their bodies.”  Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington, 132 S.Ct. 1510, 1513 (2012).  In addition, the court accepted the idea that those arrested for the most minor offenses “can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals.” Id.  at 1520.  Accordingly, the Court held that it was reasonable for jails to strip-search each and every incoming inmate, regardless of the offense for which the inmate was arrested.

The Supreme Court’s Florence decision led some Tennessee sheriffs to declare that they would strip search all incoming inmates.  Such statements and policies did not take into account Tennessee state law, which continues to forbid the practice of strip-searching those arrested for “a traffic, regulatory or misdemeanor offense, except in cases involving weapons, a controlled substance or controlled substance analogue.”

Who wins?  Tennessee state law or the United States Supreme Court?  In this case, because Tennessee state law offers greater protection to its citizens’ rights than does the United States Supreme Court’s ruling, Tennessee law should be followed.

The Supreme Court interprets the United States Constitution and sets the bare minimum individual rights protections for everyone in the United States.  Nevertheless, each state may raise the level of protection for its citizens.  Fortunately, Tennessee Code Annotated § 40-7-119 provides Tennesseans a greater degree of dignity by preventing strip searches following arrest of those incarcerated for traffic, regulatory, and most misdemeanor offenses.

As the 2013 legislative calendar draws to a close, it appears that House Bill 0275 will not pass into law this year.  As a result, Tennesseans arrested for minor offenses such as Underage Consumption of Alcohol and Disorderly Conduct will not be subjected to invasive strip searches following their arrests during the coming year.

If other questions arise regarding this or other driving under the influence laws or legal issues, the DUI defense lawyers at Oberman & Rice are ready to assist you.

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Steve Oberman

Steve Oberman

Since graduating from the University of Tennessee Law School in 1980, Mr. Oberman has become established as a national authority on the intricacies of DUI defense law. Steve is a former Dean of the National College for DUI Defense, co-author of a national treatise ("Drunk Driving Defense" published by Aspen/Wolters-Kluwer), and author of "DUI: The Crime and Consequences in Tennessee" (published by Thomson-Reuters/West). He has taught thousands of lawyers, judges, and members of the general public about the intricacies of this crime. Steve was selected as a Fulbright Scholar to teach American Criminal Law and American Trial Advocacy at the University of Latvia School of Law in 2019; in 2023 taught for a semester as a visiting professor at Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) Faculty of Law in Budapest, Hungary; and as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Ljubljana Faculty of Law in 2024. Steve has also presented at a number of judicial conferences in the United States and Canada as well as for law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Czech Republic Police Academy. As a Tennessee DUI attorney, Mr. Oberman has successfully defended over two thousand clients charged with Driving Under the Influence of alcohol and/or drugs. In 2006, Mr. Oberman became the first DUI lawyer in Tennessee to be recognized by the National College for DUI Defense as a Board Certified Specialist in the area of DUI Defense law.

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