When Does a Search Warrant Authorize a Strip Search?

Charlotte DWI Lawyer Brad Smith answers the question: “Can the police search my car without a warrant?”


When law enforcement suspects that a person is in possession of contraband, a stolen item, or some other type of illegal substance/item, they will often obtain a search warrant to find that item. In North Carolina, a search warrant is defined as, “a court order and process directing a law enforcement officer to search designated premises, vehicles, or persons.” This definition gives potential for a location, vehicle, or even persons being subject to a search. Most commonly, search warrants are for places like homes, vehicles, etc. It is not as common for a search warrant to be executed for the search of an individual person.


canine-police-search-Charlotte-Monroe-Lake-Norman-200x300When a search warrant is executed for a person, does that search warrant entitle law enforcement to conduct a strip search? States across the United States vary in their answer to this question. In North Carolina, the answer to that question is usually yes. The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled on a case in the early 2000s that remains the leading case in the authorization of strip searches. In State v. Johnson, a suspect was suspected of distributing drugs. In an attempt to find the alleged drugs, law enforcement obtained a search warrant. The search warrant was for the defendant’s home and person. In the home, weapons and scales were found. Then, law enforcement went on to search the defendant’s person. Initially, almost $2,000 was found in small bills on the defendant. The defendant was then instructed to remove his clothes and bend over at the waist. Officers then found 17 bags of cocaine hidden on the defendant.


During trial, the defendant claimed that his Fourth Amendment rights to privacy were violated when he was instructed to strip. He stated that the application did not articulate the specific reasons that a strip search was necessary in the finding the hidden drugs. However, on appeal the North Carolina Court of Appeals did not agree with this argument. The court found that drugs can be “readily concealed on the person so that they would not be found without a strip search,” and therefore the strip search was reasonable.


In conducting a strip search, though, there are several caveats that must be fulfilled and kept in mind during the execution.


  • An item that cannot be hidden easily under clothing does not result in a proper strip search.
  • After the item being searched for is found, the search cannot continue. Further search could be considered intrusive.
  • The dignity of the suspect must be preserved as much as possible given the circumstances.
  • Physical intrusion into a suspect’s body cavities requires additional court permission.


If you have been subject to a strip search before being charged with a criminal crime, you need an attorney who will look out for your rights, including the right to privacy. The criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are here to fight for your rights. Contact us today.


If you have been charged or convicted of a criminal act, the criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC can help you. Whether it be at the original sentencing hearing, throughout the criminal charge and trial process, or helping with issues post conviction, we are here for you. At Arnold & Smith, PLLC we value your rights and will aggressively defend them. Conviction of a crime does not need to result in lifetime monitoring. Contact us today to find out how our attorneys can provide the best defenses to you given the circumstances of the case. If you find yourself facing criminal charges and need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney in or around Charlotte, Lake Norman, or our new office in Monroe (by appointment only until 2019), please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.








The criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC make it their mission to zealously defend their clients on a wide range of criminal matters at both the state and federal levels. These matters may include any charge from traffic offenses; DWI/DUI; drug charges (from simple possession to possession with intent to distribute and trafficking); gun permit denials; weapons offenses; and property crimes (larceny, breaking and entering, robbery, fraud, embezzlement, white collar offenses); to sexually related offenses (indecent exposure; sexual assault, crimes against nature, removal from sex offender registry); and violent crimes (domestic violence; assault; manslaughter; homicide, murder). Other legal issues that Arnold & Smith, PLLC criminal clients may be facing include restraining orders, restraining order and probation violations, expungements; appeals; and immigration issues related to criminal charges. Our criminal defense attorneys are passionate about ensuring that individuals empower themselves by being informed about their constitutional rights, and stand at the ready to fight in the defense of those facing criminal charges.







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