Bill Would Allow Strip Searches for Misdemeanor Crimes, Eliminate Need for Probable Cause

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Lansing, Mich. (WILX) Getting arrested for a misdemeanor could get a lot more personal.

A bill introduced last week by Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, would allow anyone put in jail for a misdemeanor crime to be strip-searched, without probable cause.

Jones put it simply that the changes would mean safer jails for both inmates and officers.

"I want to emphasize, we're talking about the safety of other inmates and officers," he said.

Jones, who is a former sheriff and jail administrator, said the Michigan Sheriff's Association approached him about introducing the bill.

"You come into a jail, I don't think you have an expectation of privacy from anything," said Ingham Co. Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth who said he applauded Jones' bill.

"You find some crazy things in some crazy places, so I think it's in order to protect our officers and the public as well as people being booked into a jail."

The bill would bring Michigan's jails in line with federal prisons where strip searches are allowed without probable cause, according to Jones.

But it's the exemption of probable cause that's raising some red flags with Okemos-based attorney Mark Bailey.

"We have a constitution that protects it's citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures," Bailey said.

"We're talking about a strip-search here and so when you're talking about rights I think we have to balance the rights of a police officer to be safe--which is important--versus the rights to privacy."

But for Wriggelsworth--who last week was showing off the Ingham Co. Jail's new full body scanner for inmates--safety of officers trumps all, misdemeanor or not, which is something he says opponents don't understand.

"They (opponents) don't have to deal with the practical aspects of dealing with criminals, and that's really what this boils down to," he said.

"You can have this flowery theory that we need to protect the rights of people, but if you're committing a crime, I don't care if it's a misdemeanor or not, it's a crime."

But Bailey argues he hasn't seen enough cited examples of people charged with misdemeanors trying to sneak weapons or contraband into prison to warrant the blanket changes.

"I think if people just step back and and say look--if my son or daughter was arrested for a relatively minor misdemeanor, would I want them strip-searched unless there was some probable cause to believe they were dangerous--I think most people if they look at it in that light would agree this is overreaching," he said.

"I am concerned about rights taken away, you never seem to get them back again."

The bill, SB 958, was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee and probably won't get a vote until the fall session, Jones said.

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