Monday, April 9, 2012

Supreme Court's Ruling on Strip Searches UNJUST


On March 3, 2005, Albert Florence was driving to his parent’s home with his wife and three kids when he was pulled over by a New Jersey State Trooper for speeding. He was arrested for a warrant for failing to pay a civil contempt fine years before. It was later determined that he did in fact pay the fine and the warrant was cancelled, but was never entered into the computer (1). After his arrest, he was taken to Burlington County Jail and ordered to take his clothes off. Correctional officers, acting according to county jail policies, inspected his naked body. He was forced to open his mouth, lift his tongue, arms, and genitals (1). After being held in that jail, he was transferred to Essex County Jail (the county in which the warrant was issued from) and was again subject to another strip search, except this time, he was forced to squat and cough (1). “Turn around, squat and cough. Spread your cheeks,” Florence recalls (2). After appearing before an Essex County judge, six days later, he was released from jail.

Subsequent to the humiliating strip searches, Florence filed a lawsuit against the two jails for Fourth Amendment violations. He claimed that the strip searches violated his right to privacy because officials had no reason to believe that he was concealing weapons or contraband as he was arrested only for speeding and a warrant for failing to pay a fine (1). 

Florence took his case all the way to the United States Supreme Court. On Monday, April 2, 2012, seven years after the incident, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that jail/prison officials may strip-search anyone arrested for any offense, no matter how minor the offense is, upon entering the person into the jail or prison. This can happen even if officials have no suspicion of weapons or contraband being hid (2). This essentially means that, if you are arrested for not wearing your seat belt and are taken into custody, jail officials can conduct a strip search, even though the offense was not wearing your seat belt. 

Jails and prisons are dangerous places that are full of weapons and contraband, which is the point of view that the majority writes from. In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy stated that, "maintaining safety and order at (detention) institutions requires the expertise of correctional officials, who must have substantial discretion to devise reasonable solutions to the problems they face . . . the seriousness of an offense is a poor predictor of who has contraband" (3). According to Kennedy, there are numerous cases where people arrested for minor crimes have been caught trying to conceal contraband in their body. One example is a person who was arrested for disorderly conduct in Washington State who “managed to hide a lighter, tobacco, tattoo needles and other prohibited items in his rectal cavity” (2). 

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Breyer contradicts Kennedy’s justification that strip searches are the only effective means of detecting contraband. In his dissenting opinion, he cited a study of 23,000 people admitted to a correctional facility in New York in which the guards used a “reasonable suspicion” standard when conducting strip searches. As long as the reasonable suspicion standard was used, there might be one instance of contraband getting into the facility (2). 

“In my view, such a search of an individual arrested for a minor offense that does not involve drugs or violence . . . is an unreasonable search forbidden by the Fourth Amendment” and is a “serious affront to human dignity and to individual privacy.” (1) –Justice Breyer 

I personally think that the Court has gone too far in allowing this kind of conduct by officials. It gives them the power to strip anyone down accused of any crime and conduct an invasive and embarrassing search. What do you guys think??



  1. This is so wrong. I understand that the officers need to protect themselves and the public, as people who get arrested may have weapons on them, but I think there is a certain amount of discretion that needs to be put into doing these strip searches. Someone who has a clean record and is arrested for a traffic violation is not as likely to have a weapon hidden on them as someone who is arrested for something like aggravated battery or a drug charge. If they are looking for weapons, couldn’t they just use a portable metal detector? I think this is a serious violation of the constitution’s guarantee of the right to privacy, and I do not understand how the United States Supreme Court could pass a law like this.

  2. While I believe that a strip search can be a violation of your rights for a minor offense. Most people are strip searched when arrested for a serious crime, people dont get arrested for seat belt violations, those are traffic tickets. Even though this was a misunderstanding and he shouldnt have been put in jail, once he is arrested and put in jail he is the departments responsibility as well as whoever is in the holding cell with him. Just because they didnt suspect contraband they still must check just in case he has something on him. Is he were to injure himself or others they department would be responsible for that.

  3. That is so wrong it makes me mad. It is one thing if you have been tracking someone for a violent or drug offense and you finally catch them, then, I would agree with a strip search. This man had only been accused of not paying a fine and the officials felt the need to check his rectum? That is absurd, what did they think that when they pulled him over he shoved a bunch of stuff up there? I feel bad for this guy and he had every right in the world to be mad. The Supreme Court is wrong on this one. I understand doing these type of searches when they have probable cause and want to be safe, but in this instance I think they were just being jerks.

  4. This is an interesting topic where it's easy to see both sides of the argument. On one hand, I can totally understand and appreciate the difficult job that prison/jail officials have at keeping contraband out. On the other hand, I understand the argument that if someone isn't brought in on violent or drug crimes then a strip search is an invasion of privacy. I guess where I stand is, who is to say that just because someone was brought in on nonviolent or non-drug charges they don't have contraband? It's not like the prison guards are conducting the searches to harass or embarrass the inmates, it's for the safety of themselves, other prisoners, and for the individuals being brought in. I truly can appreciate both sides of this argument however but I think I side more with Justice Kennedy on this one.