Airport Searches Get More Intimate

9th Circuit CourthouseIf you consent to a pat-down search by an airport screener, you have agreed to let them get very familiar, or so says a federal appeals court.  Keith Russell had 700 Oxycodone pills hidden in his underwear at the Seattle Airport.  The officer said he wanted to search Russell and the search was for drugs.  Russell agreed.  Officer starts at the ankle and works up.  Still no objection from Russell.  Uh-oh.  700 pills.  Really?

The question for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals: is it reasonable to expect officers to include your groin when they do a pat-down search at the airport. Never addressed that before. 

Judge Margaret McKeown says yes it was a reasonable search.

Any search, even voluntary ones, have to be reasonable, McKeown noted.  “The question here is whether a request to conduct a search of the person for narcotics reasonably includes the groin area,” she wrote.  She was joined by Judges Wallace Tashima and Richard Tallman.

The officer explained they start at the ankle and work up to give people a chance to say the don’t want the search and tell them to stop.  Russell did nothing to indicate a change of heart, according to the court.

“The search was reasonable,” McKeown said.  “Narcotics are often hidden on the body in locations that make discovery more difficult, including the groin area.”

Two other circuit courts have also held that searches of the groin in the context of drug investigations is permitted it the person consents.

The D.C. Circuit and the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta.  In the 11th Circuit the court said if the search is “brief and discreet” by an officer of the same sex it is ok.

The 9th Circuit rejected Russells’s motion to suppress drugs recovered from the pad-down search.

Maybe those full body scanners don’t seem so bad after all. 

Case:  U.S. v. Russell,  No. 11-30030

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