Civil Liberties

Advil Strip Search

Fourth Amendment victory


“This is a difficult case,” wrote Judge Michael Hawkins, dissenting from a July decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. That is not the way most people respond when they hear about Savana Redding, who was strip-searched at age 13 by Arizona school officials looking for ibuprofen pills in her underwear.

Nor is it the way most of Hawkins’ colleagues reacted. Eight of the 11 judges who heard the case agreed that Vice Principal Kerry Wilson’s decision to order a “grossly intrusive search of a middle school girl to locate pills with the potency of two over-the-counter Advil capsules” violated Savana’s Fourth amendment rights.

Safford Middle School, where Wilson continues to work, has a “zero tolerance” policy that prohibits possession of all drugs, including not just alcohol and illegal intoxicants but unauthorized prescription and over-the-counter medications as well. In October 2003, based on an unsubstantiated allegation by another eighth-grader who was caught with ibuprofen and naproxen, Wilson instructed a secretary to strip-search Savana under the school nurse’s supervision.

Savana later called the fruitless searchâ€"during which she was forced to remove all her clothing except her underwear, then pull back her bra and panties to demonstrate that she was not concealing ibuprofen in her cleavage or crotchâ€"“the most humiliating experience I have ever had.” As the American Civil Liberties Union noted, “there was no reason to suspect that a thirteen-year-old honor-roll student with a clean disciplinary record had adopted drug-smuggling practices associated with international narcotrafficking, or to suppose that other middle-school students would willingly consume ibuprofen that was stored in another student’s crotch.”

The school district’s lawyer disagreed, telling ABC News in March that the circumstances demanded swift, decisive action to avert a possible catastrophe. “Remember,” he said, “this was prescription-strength ibuprofen.”