Friday, April 13, 2012
The Fourth Amendment in the United States Constitution protects “the right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.” However, in a decision made by the United States Supreme Court in regards to Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington, these rights to protection may be changing.
The case arose when the wife of Albert W. Florence was pulled over in his BMW for speeding in New Jersey in 2005. Mr. Florence, sitting in the passenger seat, had an alleged warrant out for his arrest based on unpaid fines (I say alleged because the search was incorrect and the fines had already been paid). Mr. Florence spent one week in jail in both Burlington and Essex Counties. He was strip searched in both without any reasonable suspicion by either county’s guards.
The Supreme Court ruled on Monday, April 2nd, 2012 in a 5-to-4 vote that law officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense before admitting them to jail even if the said officials have no reason to suspect the individual to be in possession of contraband or other illegal materials. Law enforcement and corrections officials are allowed to strip-search anyone regardless of the offense they are arrested for, no matter how major or minor the offense is.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy supported the Court’s decision by stating that the courts are in no position to question the judgment and discretion exercised by law enforcement and correctional officers who must protect themselves and the fellow inmates in the jail population. The Supreme Court concluded that these searches are necessary to identify injury, diseases, contraband, and tattoos or other gang affiliated markings on the individual prior to admitting them into the general population.
“Every detainee who will be admitted to the general population may be required to undergo a close visual inspection while undressed,” Justice Kennedy wrote.
Although the majority of the Supreme Court voted in favor of these searches, over ten states and several federal authorities have statutes and policies in affect to protect against these procedures. According to a brief written by the American Bar Association, the approved searches are also in violation of international human rights treaties. Individuals may be subject to these searches for even the most minor of offenses such as driving infractions. A noisy muffler, a broken tail light, or failing to use a turn signal could give you a one way ticket to a strip search.
Although the law has the best intentions to protect law enforcement and corrections officials, it is clearly in violation of the Fourth Amendment set forth in our Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court believes that the courts have no right to question the judgment of law enforcement officials and corrections officers so they must believe that the criminal justice officials can distinguish whether reasonable suspicion exists or it does not. By not requiring reasonable suspicion for these strip searches, the Supreme Court has set forth a very dangerous and evasive precedent for future arrested individuals. I better go get my tail light fixed immediately.