A bill is set to go before the Texas State House of Representatives Monday that would protect individuals from body cavity searches by peace officers unless a search warrant has been issued by a magistrate. The bill, authored by Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), is designed to address incidents in Texas where law enforcement officers conducted body cavity searches during a traffic stop. The bill, H.B. 324, defines “body cavity search” as an inspection that is conducted of a person’s anal or vaginal cavity in any manner.
In July 2012, a traffic stop was conducted in Irving, Texas, after officers saw cigarettes being thrown out of a car. The trooper who made the traffic stop questioned the women in the car about marijuana. Two women, 38-year-old Angel Dobbs, and 24-year-old Ashley Dobbs, said that a female trooper conducted body cavity searches on both of them, both anally and vaginally. The searches were captured on a police dash cam video. The same glove was used on both women. An officer searched the car but did not find anything. A DWI test was also administered on one of the women which she passed. A citation was issued for littering. On the video, one of the women is heard telling the officer “I was like totally violated over there a few minutes ago, I had a finger in my ass, and a finger in my pee-pee.” A settlement of $185,000 was reported to have been reached after a lawsuit was filed. The female trooper plead guilty to official oppression but denied she committed sexual assault or used her finger to invade a body cavity.
On Memorial Day in 2012, Brandy Hamilton, 27, and Alexandria Randle, 26, were driving back home after a day at the beach in Surfside when they were stopped by a peace officer for speeding. They were stopped in Brazoria County, just south of Houston, Texas. The officer smelled marijuana and a small amount was later found in the car. The male officer called a female trooper to come to the scene to do a cavity search. Body cavity searches were conducted on the two bikini-clad women. The female trooper was fired but was reinstated after a grand jury declined to indict her. The male trooper had been suspended. Brandy Hamilton, the driver of the car, was charged with a Class B misdemeanor for possession. The women later filed a lawsuit.
In March of 2013, a female Texas Corrections Officer, Jennifer Stelly, and her boyfriend, Channing Castex, were driving through Brazoria County to go to spend a day at the beach. They were pulled over for speeding and officers found marijuana in her purse. News outlets reported that Stelly was on her cycle and her anal area was the only area penetrated. A lawsuit resulted in a settlement.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects from unreasonable searches and seizures and a peace officer is prohibited from conducting a search without a search warrant unless there is a legal exception.
The Bill Analysis of H.B. 324 by the Texas House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee states that incidents involving body cavity searches in Texas have prompted concerns about the lack of policies among law enforcement agencies. It states that the bill is designed to align certain law enforcement policy with the Fourth Amendment.
The bill would amend the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, and if passed, would take effect November 1, 2015. The bill received a unanimous vote when in the Texas House Committee.
Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served the state of Texas as a prosecutor and an associate judge. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2