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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  • Display: Sort:
    Someone please remind me: (5.00 / 0) (#1)
    by shoephone on Mon Apr 02, 2012 at 02:00:43 PM EST
    What are the grounds for impeaching judges? Because I'm thinking this is it.

    Non-Sense (5.00 / 0) (#2)
    by ScottW714 on Mon Apr 02, 2012 at 02:24:04 PM EST
    ....there is a serious danger that some detainees will attempt to smuggle weapons, drugs, or other contraband into the jail.

    Seems like there should be some discretion here, the guy who filed suit, hadn't actually committed a crime because in NJ it's not illegal to not pay a fine.  So even if there wasn't a mix-up, he didn't break the law.

    In theory, the guards should go through the same 'inspection' since they also have, in the past, smuggled in the same materials.  And I suspect they smuggle in just as many, if not more, illegal goods than prisoners.  For sure at prisons.

    Seems like I remember long ago that the major differences between us and them (Communists) was that they put the state before the person, now that they are gone, we have decided that to follow suit.

    And I have to say, as humiliating as this is, the provision for women seems 10x worse.  It also seems like this ruling will most certainly be used as just one more layer of humiliation for jails not concerned about security.  

    Is HPD going to do this to me over a Public Intoxication, my GF ?  

    May each and every one of them (5.00 / 0) (#10)
    by sj on Tue Apr 03, 2012 at 05:03:55 PM EST
    be arrested for a traffic violation and processed according to his own recommendations.

    Disgusting ruling but (none / 0) (#3)
    by brodie on Mon Apr 02, 2012 at 04:09:31 PM EST
    not that surprising.  Right along political lines.

    Yes, elections do matter.

    And this country is starting to look like Egypt more and more.

    They Do ? (none / 0) (#9)
    by ScottW714 on Tue Apr 03, 2012 at 11:33:21 AM EST
    Though Dems won this past one.

    Sotomayor and Kagan (none / 0) (#11)
    by KeysDan on Tue Apr 03, 2012 at 07:11:20 PM EST
    (and Breyer and Ginsberg) voted against the strip-searches.  However, the majority opinion was a victory for the Obama administration, which argued for an across-the-board rule allowing strip-searches of all those entering the general jail population, even those arrested on minor offenses.

    Bloomberg and Kelly may well find ths a very good (none / 0) (#6)
    by jawbone on Mon Apr 02, 2012 at 09:42:43 PM EST
    ruling -- maybe make it easier to discourage Occupiers, eh?

    Unless there's a NY state law which prevents this kind of abuse?

    How can they call themselves judges? (none / 0) (#7)
    by PatHat on Tue Apr 03, 2012 at 08:58:34 AM EST
    Do the SC-R judges realize how they will be viewed in the history books? A bunch of shills for the right wing?

    Strip searching for a traffic violation?

    Justice Breyer wrote that (none / 0) (#8)
    by KeysDan on Tue Apr 03, 2012 at 10:20:09 AM EST
     people have been subjected to "the humiliation of a visual strip-search" after being arrested for driving with a noisy muffler, failing to use a turn signal and riding a bicycle without an audible bell.  And, a nun was strip-searched , he wrote, after an arrest for trespassing during an anti-war demonstration.  So were victims of sexual assaults."    So, here is a new tool against protesters and an additional intimidating gear -up for the summer of OWS.

    Justice Kennedy in a befuddling response said that  "people detained for minor offenses can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals." citing Timothy McVeigh, first arrested for driving without a license plate and one of the 9/ll terrorists stopped and ticketed for speeding just two days before hijacking Flight 93.  It is not clear to me how Justice Kennedy feels that a visual strip-search would have discovered, in body cavities,  weapons used in their subsequent crimes (e.g. a truck-load of explosives and a Boeing 757-222).