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A federal appeals court called body-cavity searches "dehumanizing and humiliating" and ruled unconstitutional a Los Angeles police policy of conducting such searches on anyone arrested for a felony.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 3-0 ruling Wednesday, said the practice violates the constitutional ban on unreasonable searches."The intrusiveness of a body-cavity search cannot be overstated," Judge Cynthia Holcomb Hall said in upholding $25,000 in damages to a woman searched after her arrest on her roommate's accusation of grand theft.

Noting that felonies in California include willful tax evasion and securities fraud, the court said the felony designation has little to do with the likelihood of a suspect's concealing drugs, weapons or other contraband.

Police offered no evidence that people arrested on suspicion of a felony were more likely than other inmates to smuggle illegal items into jail, the court said.

"A ham-handed approach to policymaking runs the serious risk of infringing upon detainees' constitutional rights," said Hall, a conservative appointed to the court by President Reagan.

"Strip searches involving the visual exploration of body cavities (are) dehumanizing and humiliating," Hall said.