Supreme Court judges the strip search: understand what is at stake

The court is scheduled to judge on Wednesday an appeal that will determine whether evidence obtained using this procedure is admissible

Ediwirge Nogu Ediwirge Nogu

On Wednesday, October 28, the Supreme Court will judge an appeal that challenges the admissibility of evidence obtained from strip searches – an invasive and degrading procedure to which family members of detainees are subjected when they visit prison facilities. 

“The strip search violates fundamental rights, such as the presumption of innocence and the right not to be subjected to degrading treatment. Despite being banned by legislation on a state level, this procedure still occurs in prison facilities and during police stops on the streets and public spaces,” said Gabriel Sampaio, coordinator of the program to Combat Institutional Violence at Conectas Human Rights. 

The procedure consists of a degrading ritual. Mothers, daughters, sisters and wives of prisoners are required to strip naked, squat three times over a mirror, contract their muscles and open their rectum and vagina with their fingers so agents of the State can perform searches for items in their private parts. 

Humiliating and unjustified

Besides being humiliating, the continuation of strip searches is unjustified. In the state of São Paulo, according to research from the Public Defender’s Office, only 0.02% of these searches result in items being seized. 

Data from the state of Paraná reveal that, in 2018, drugs were seized in 0.18% of the strip searches of visitors and mobile phones in just 0.01%. 

Of all the items seized in the Federal District in the same year, only 0.2% were taken from visitors and they were not necessarily dangerous items. Among the objects found were money, pen ink for tattooing, medication and messages, as well as narcotic substances, memory cards and mobile phone chips. 

Organizations call for an end to the procedure

The organizations Conectas Human Rights, ITTC (Land, Labor and Citizenship Institute) and IDDD (Defense of the Right to a Defense Institute) will take part in the judgment as amici curiae (friends of the court) and highlight the illegality of the procedure. The organizations form the Criminal Justice Network, a group of nine organizations that are working to promote a justice system that is based on human rights. 

The group has sent a technical opinion to the justices of the Supreme Court urging the procedure to be considered unconstitutional.

“The principle that no punishment may be administered to anyone other than the convicted offender is one of the most basic foundations of criminal law. Nevertheless, the simple fact of having an emotional bond with a prisoner means thousands of people every week have to endure a procedure as degrading as a strip search,” said Janine Salles, executive coordinator of the Criminal Justice Network.

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