Supreme Court to Decide if Strip Searches Violated Civil Rights

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard several cases regarding acceptable behavior by law enforcement, and this term is no exception. One of the cases involves Albert Florence, a New Jersey resident who alleged that his civil rights were violated after being subject to strip searches when being booked into two local jails.

Florence was stopped in 2005 while riding in his vehicle with his wife and daughter. The police ran a search for the vehicle's registration, and discovered that it belonged to Florence, who had an outstanding warrant for an unpaid fine from a 2003 non-indictable civil contempt matter. Despite his efforts to demonstrate to the officer that he had already paid the fine, Florence was erroneously arrested and taken to the Burlington County Jail.

When he arrived at the jail, he was ordered to submit to a strip search. This is common practice for everyone who was processed for entry at the facility. After six days, he was transferred to the Essex County Correctional Facility, where he was subject to another strip search. The facilities alleged that the procedures were in place to prevent drug smuggling, and also examine any tattoos that prisoners may have to determine if they were affiliated with any gangs.

Florence sued the municipalities and jails, alleging that the strip searches violated his constitutional rights. The case would eventually make its way to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled against Florence. The court weighed the privacy interests of the individual and compared them against the security interests of the jail, and felt that since the policy applied to everyone that the procedures in place at both jails were reasonable.

This ruling was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear the case. At issue is whether or not jails are allowed to strip search every person about to be admitted even if the prisoner has only committed minor offenses. The Court had considered a similar issue in a 1979 case, which ruled that it was permissible for jails to strip search prisoners who had any contact with visitors.

This case is extremely important to both privacy advocates and law enforcement. If the Court rules that these procedures are acceptable, it could lead to people who have been arrested for minor issues like unpaid court fines or traffic tickets to find themselves subjected to strip searches if they are jailed. This could lead to more law enforcement agencies or municipalities developing policies which call for strip searches when processing new prisoners.