Newsbrief: Federal Appeals Court Says Police Can Take Hair Samples Whenever They Feel Like It 11/26/04

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The US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled late last month that police may remove and drug test large amounts of hair from a suspect's head, neck and shoulders without a warrant or probable cause. The ruling came in the case of a Pennsylvania state trooper who was forced to provide hair samples after his superiors suspected he was using drugs. No drug residues were found in the hair samples, and the trooper subsequently sued the Pennsylvania State Police for violating his Fourth Amendment right to be free of unwarranted, unreasonable searches and seizures. The trooper, William Coddington, lost in federal district court, and the appeals court decision upheld that ruling.

According to the logic of the 3rd Circuit, the Fourth Amendment does not apply to one's hair. Since most body hair is visible, individuals have no reasonable expectation of privacy and taking a hair sample is thus not a search, the court reasoned. "The taking of hair is not subject to restrictions imposed by the Fourth Amendment," the court held.

Since the Fourth Amendment governs both search and seizure, the ruling strongly implies that police can also seize (for whatever purpose) hair without a warrant or probable cause.

That ruling caught the attention of Rutgers Law School professor and Findlaw columnist Sherry Kolb who pronounced it "bizarre" and "wrong as a matter of logic and constitutional analysis."

"For the police to behave as they allegedly did toward Coddington, without having to act on suspicion or otherwise justify their actions, is a frightening prospect," wrote Kolb. "And make no mistake. Under the 3rd Circuit's approach, the police can shave the hair of anyone who appears in public at any time. They do not need to have any reason whatsoever for suspecting the unwitting shavee of a crime."

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Issue #364 , 11/26/04

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Editorial: Epic and Turbulent Times | DRCNet Event: Rep. Barney Frank to Keynote for Perry Fund Forum/Fundraiser, December 9, 2004, Boston | Seeking Political Traction, Britain's Blair Marches Boldly Backwards on Drug Policy | SSDP Does College Park: Sixth Annual National Conference Shows Off a Maturing Organization | Newsbrief: Pennsylvania "Treatment and Jail" Sentencing Reform Gets Governor's Signature | Newsbrief: Polls Find Canadian Majority Favoring Marijuana Legalization | Newsbrief: More Support for Medical Marijuana from Connecticut Nurses and Texans | Newsbrief: Rep. Souder Busily Fighting the "Good" Fight | Newsbrief: University of Vermont to Pay $15,000 to Students Arrested for Marijuana Advocacy | Newsbrief: Federal Appeals Court Says Police Can Take Hair Samples Whenever They Feel Like It | Newsbrief: Philippine Drug Doc Calls for Marijuana Decriminalization | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories | This Week in History | Apply Now to Intern At DRCNet! | Criminal Justice Policy Foundation Seeking Executive Secretary or Administrative Assistant | Seeking Information, Affiliations, Link Exchanges | The Reformer's Calendar

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