Supreme Court OKs Blanket Strip Searches

In a controversial 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court recently ruled that jailers may subject people that are arrested for any offense, including minor ones, to invasive strip searches, before the person is admitted to the jail, even if the jailer does not have any reason to suspect the person is carrying weapons or contraband.

In the case Albert Florence, a New Jersey man, was in the passenger seat of his wife's car when she was pulled over for speeding. As part of the traffic stop, Florence's name was run through the state's computerized records system to check for evidence of a criminal history. The search revealed that there was an outstanding warrant for Florence's arrest, due to his failure to pay a fine-information that turned out to be false, as the fine had been paid.

Based on this inaccurate information, the officer arrested Florence and he spent a week in two different jails, before officials dropped the charges. At each jail, Florence was required to undergo a strip search. Florence sued, claiming that the searches were unconstitutional unless police have probable cause to suspect that the prisoner is carrying drugs, weapons or contraband.

The Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, disagreed with Florence's assertion, saying that the courts are not in a position to second-guess correctional officers. The court ruled that correctional officers have a legitimate interest in maintaining order and safety in the nation's jails, and in doing so, have the right to search prisoners for smuggled weapons, drugs and evidence of gang affiliations or diseases.

The court did not say that strip searches were required for every new arrestee, but said that the Constitution did not prohibit them.

Effect of the Ruling

The ruling gives jailers and correctional officers carte blanche to strip search any person who is arrested for any offense, no matter how minor. In addition, jailers do not have to suspect an arrestee is carrying contraband or poses a danger to other prisoners in order to require a strip search.

If you are arrested for any offense or believe that you are under investigation for criminal activity, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. An attorney can advise you of your rights and prepare an effective defense to achieve the most favorable outcome.