Understanding the search of person laws in Connecticut can get complicated. Below is a comprehensive list of these laws. This can help you understand when searches are legal and when they are illegal.
State vs. Dukes
When officers have probable cause to make an arrest, they can lawfully search the person. They can do this pursuant to the search incident to arrest exception to the warrant requirement. State vs. Dukes, 209 Conn. 98 (1988). An officer can stop a suspect if they have a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the individual has committed or will commit a crime. Trine, 236 Conn. at 223. When determining if a police officer has a reasonable and articulable suspicion, the court applies a “totality of the circumstances test.” State vs. Clark, 255 Conn. 268 (2001).
State vs. Clark
The court must determine whether the detaining officers had a particularized and objective reason for stopping the person suspected of criminal activity. Clark, 255 Conn. at 282-83. Furthermore, if an officer reasonably believes that the detained individual might pose a threat due to weapons on their person, the officer may undertake a pat down search to discover weapons. Terry vs. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968); Trine, 236 Conn. at 223-224. See also State vs. Days, 89 Conn. App. 789 (2005) (where officers conduct a surveillance in an area known for narcotics activity and observed what appeared as a drug transaction, they had reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop the suspect, even if they did not see drugs).
State vs. Cooper
When individuals get stopped for suspected narcotics activity, officers can conclude that the subjects might have weapons on them, because narcotics activity can result in sudden violence. Officers do not need to be positive that a suspect has a weapon to conduct a lawful pat down; they can make reasonable inferences based on the surrounding circumstances and their prior experiences. Clark at 284-285. These rules get based off the well established connection between drugs and firearms. State vs. Cooper, 227 Conn. 417 (1993).
Terry vs. Ohio
Under Terry, an officer can conduct an open handed pat down of the suspect to check for weapons. If an officer has to manipulate the object to determine what it consists of, they have exceeded the lawful scope of a Terry pat down. Minnesota vs. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366 (1993); Trine at 233. If, however, they immediately recognize the object as a weapon or contraband without manipulation, that fulfills the “plain feel” doctrine and constitutes lawful search and seizure if they remove it from the defendant’s person.
Connecticut statutes authorize strip searches in very limited circumstances, under very narrow conditions. A “strip search,” as defined by Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-33k, means having your clothes removed, either voluntarily or by a “peace officer,” to permit a visual inspection of the body. If arrested for a misdemeanor or a motor vehicle violation, you should not get strip searched unless there is “reasonable belief” that you conceal a weapon or contraband.
The procedures for strip searches in Connecticut come from Conn. Gen. Stat. § 54-33l. Any body cavity search must happen pursuant to a warrant. It must happen under sanitary conditions, and in the presence of a person licensed to practice medicine. If the police determine that you are to be strip searched, it must be conducted by a member of the same sex. It must happen out of eye shot by anyone else not conducting the search. Furthermore, an officer must obtain written permission from his supervisor to conduct the search and must also prepare a detailed report. The strip search statute does provide protections for the accused, in that the civil remedies are reserved if the search is unfounded. However, these rules and protections do not apply to those incarcerated.