In 2006, Officer Christopher L. Keckler of the Gulfport Police Department stopped a vehicle for speeding. Jason Foxworth was the driver of the vehicle. Initially, Foxworth provided Keckler with a false name but then corrected himself and admitted he did not have a driver’s license. Foxworth was placed under arrest for driving without a license, having no insurance, speeding, and providing false information.
Keckler proceeded to conduct a search incident to Foxworth’s arrest. During the search, Keckler required Foxworth to spread his feet as he ran his hand down the outside of Foxworth’s clothing. He then felt an object inside of Foxworth’s pants.
The object began to fall, and Keckler grabbed the object with one hand while reaching inside Foxworth’s pants with his other hand. At that point, he retrieved the object from Foxworth’s undergarments. The object was cocaine.
Foxworth was convicted of possession of cocaine and sentenced to life as a habitual offender. On appeal, he argued he was subjected to a strip search which was unreasonable. MCOA affirmed.
In a search incident to arrest, an officer is justified in searching not only for weapons but also for evidence that might be easily destroyed. In these circumstances, the narrow limits of a Terry frisk do not apply. While a search incident to arrest can exceed the scope of some other warrantless searches, the scope of the search is not limitless. As intrusiveness increases, the amount of suspicion necessary to justify the search correspondingly increases.
There are certain limitations regarding the use of strip searches. While a strip search has not specifically been defined by Mississippi common law, surrounding jurisdictions have addressed the term.
A strip search has been defined as “any exposure or observation of a portion of a person’s body where that person has a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy.’” Doe v. Calumet City, Ill., 754 F. Supp. 1211 (N.D. Ill. 1990). A strip search has also been defined as “the removal of the arrestee’s clothing for inspection of the under clothes and/or body.” State v. Nieves, 861 A. 2d 62 (Md. 2004).
In this case, Keckler reached inside Foxworth’s pants and undergarments to remove an item he believed to be a controlled substance. At no point was Foxworth forced to remove any clothing. There is also no indication that any part of his body was ever exposed to the public. He remained fully clothed during the entire search.
The MSC has upheld cases where the officer pulled a bag out of the defendant’s belt line, Ellis v. State, 573 So.2d 724 (1990), and also in Johnson where officers retrieved evidence from the pocket of the defendant. While those cases do not directly address the issue of a strip search, the conduct of the police officers in those cases was found to be appropriate.
The actions taken by Keckler are similar to the conduct in those cases. He simply retrieved evidence from inside Foxworth’s clothing. Because no strip search occurred and the search incident to arrest was appropriate, we find no error.