Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Uh Oh.... Court Rules Cops Can Shave You Without Cause

SHERRY F. COLB, FIND LAW - At the end of last month, in the case of Coddington v. Evanko , the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that police officers may constitutionally shave large amounts of hair from a suspect's head, neck, and shoulders, without a warrant, probable cause, or any basis for suspecting that the hair would provide evidence of crime. The Fourth Amendment guarantees the people the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. But according to the court, the Fourth Amendment does not apply to hair removal.

In so ruling, the Third Circuit followed its own 1982 precedent, In re Grand Jury Proceedings (Appeal of Mills) , which held that taking hair samples from visible parts of a suspect's body does not invade any reasonable expectation of privacy. Such investigation therefore does not qualify as a Fourth Amendment "search."

The court in Coddington did not specifically address the question of whether shaving a large amount of hair from a suspect might constitute an unconstitutional "seizure." But it did reaffirm what it understood to be the holding of Mills : "that the taking of hair is not subject to restrictions imposed by the Fourth Amendment." Since the Fourth Amendment governs seizures as well as searches, it follows that there is no right under any part of the Fourth Amendment to be secure from police unreasonably shaving large amounts of hair from the visible parts of one's body.

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