November 23, 2011

Colorado Court of Appeals 10-27-11 - criminal decision - People v. King

People v. King            Strip Searches and Search Warrants / No Knock Execution of a Warrant
Facts: Police claim Mr. King dealt drugs, and the judge signed a warrant. SWAT Team douche bags broke into Mr. King’s room unannounced to execute a warrant. The warrant did not expressly authorize a no-knock execution. Nevertheless, the subsequent search turned up no evidence of drug dealing. The police found only paraphernalia – two pipes, a box of baggies, and a copper scrubber. As part of the warrant, the SWAT Team conducted a strip search of Mr. King. Unfortunately for Mr. King, he had a baggie in his rectum that contained 20 smaller baggies of cocaine.
Issue: Whether exigent circumstances existed to justify the no-knock execution of the warrant?
Held: Yes.
Reasoning: The Court of Appeals reasoned exigent circumstances existed because Mr. King dealt drugs before, drugs could be easily destroyed, and the motel room had a bathroom in which drugs could be easily disposed.
Issue:  Whether ordering Mr. King, who stated was not wearing any underwear, to drop his trousers amounted to a strip search?
Held:  Yes.
Reasoning: The Court of Appeals looked to a Colorado statute to determine whether the police subjected Mr. King to a strip search. The Court stated, “Colorado criminal statutes define a strip search as 'having an arrested person remove or arrange some or all of his or her clothing so as to permit a visual inspection of the genitals, buttocks, anus, or female breasts of such person.' " C.R.S. § 16-3-405(2). The Court of Appeals reasoned the search became a strip search when the police forced Mr. King to drop his trousers after he informed them he was not wearing underwear.
Issue: Whether the strip search of Mr. King’s person went beyond the scope of the search warrant?
Held: Yes.
Reasoning: The Court of Appeals found this issue, whether search warrants include strip searches, to be one of first impression in Colorado. Nevertheless, the Court of Appeals reasoned, “A search of a person may range from a pat-down to a full search of the person to a more intrusive strip search. Strip searches are different in nature, quality, and intrusiveness from full searches of a person's body. Safford Unified School Dist. No. 1 v. Redding, ––– U.S. ––––, ––––, 129 S.Ct. 2633, 2641, 174 L.Ed.2d 354 (2009).”  Thus, the Court of Appeals held that a search warrant does NOT include a strip search. Further, according to the Court's holding, in order to justify a strip search, the police must possess “specific facts to support a reasonable suspicion that a particular person has secreted contraband beneath his or her clothes or in a body cavity.” Quoting People v. Mothersell, 14 N.Y.3d 358, 900 N.Y.S.2d 715, 926 N.E.2d 1219, 1226 (N.Y.2010).

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