Custodial Strip Searches of Juveniles: How Safford Informs a New Two-Tiered Standard of Review
In its 2009 decision in Safford Unified School District No. 1 v. Redding, the U.S. Supreme Court first ruled on the constitutionality of strip searches in public schools. The Court held that the strip search of a middle school girl who had allegedly brought painkillers to school violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Court, however, has never addressed the constitutionality of strip searches in juvenile detention centers (“JDCs”). Strip searches in JDCs are particularly troubling because they may exacerbate the already damaging psychological and emotional impact of detention on youth. Although lower courts appear to agree that the standard for such searches should fall between the standards for school searches and prison searches, courts are still confused about the proper standard, leading to broad discretion by JDC officials who conduct searches. This Note applies the reasoning in Safford to urge courts to consider the age and sex of the offender as well as the nature of the offense committed when considering the constitutionality of strip searches of juveniles who have committed minor offenses. The Note proposes a two-tiered standard of review, based on the level of offense, for determining whether the strip search of a juvenile in JDCs is unconstitutional.