Supreme Court Okays Visual Strip Searches of All Arrestees
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court today ruled all arrestees may be subjected to visual body searches when entering the general population of a jail, no matter how minor the offense for which they were arrested.
"[E]very detainee who will be admitted to the general population may be required to undergo a close visual inspection while undressed."
The opinion in Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders, is here. The petitioner in the case had been arrested after a traffic stop because a computer search showed a bench warrant for an old fine. [More..]
Petitioner was arrested during a traffic stop by a New Jersey state trooper who checked a statewide computer database and found a bench warrant issued for petitioner’s arrest after he failed to appear at a hearing to enforce a fine.
He was initially detained in the Burlington County Detention Center and later in the Essex County Correctional Facility, but was released once it was determined that thefine had been paid.
The county had failed to update its records. Florence spent six days in jail.
Florence has contended in public comments that he believed he had been targeted because he was a black man driving an expensive car.
The court did not approve jailers touching the private parts of all arrestees -- but said arrestees can be made to touch themselves and move their private parts in front of jailers. The five justices approving the ruling: Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., Antonin Scalia, Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and Clarence Thomas.
Alito explained it this way in his concurring opinion:
To perform the searches, officers may direct the arrestees to disrobe, shower, and submit to a visual inspection. As part of the inspection, the arrestees may be required to manipulate their bodies.
....there is a serious danger that some detainees will attempt to smuggle weapons, drugs, or other contraband into the jail. Some detainees may have lice, which can easily spread to others in the facility, and some detainees may have diseases or injuries for which the jail is required to provide medical treatment. In addition, if a detainee with gang-related tattoos is inadvertently housed with detainees from a rival gang, violence may ensue.
The approved searches involve:
[For males;]spreading and/or lifting his testicles to expose the area behind them and bending over and/or spreading the cheeks of his buttocks to expose his an*s. For females, the procedures are similar except females must in addition, squat to expose the v*gina.’”
[Asterisks mine, used because the full word attracts spammers galore]
The dissent wrote:
Those confined in prison retain basic constitutional rights. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U. S. 520, 545 (1979); Turner v. Safley, 482 U. S. 78, 84 (1987) (“Prison walls do not form a barrier separating prison inmates from the protections of the Constitution”)
...“A strip search that involves a stranger peering without consent at a naked individual, and in particular at the most private portions of that person’s body, is a serious invasion of privacy."
...The basic question before us is whether such a search is nonetheless justified when an individual arrested for a minor offense is involuntarily placed in the general jail or prison population.
...The petitioner, Albert W. Florence, states that his present arrest grew out of an (erroneous) report that he had failed to pay a minor civil fine previously assessed because he had hindered a prosecution (by fleeing police officers in his automobile).
The dissent said such searches should not be allowed for all minor, non-drug, non-violent offenses.
I cannot find justification for the strip search policy at issue here—a policy that would subject those arrested for minor offenses to serious invasions of their personal privacy.
Both Alito and the dissent agree:
The Court does not address whether it is always reasonable, without regard to the offense or the reason for detention, to strip search an arrestee before the arrestee’s detention has been reviewed by a judicial officer.
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