Supreme Court to Decide on Strip-Search Limits

Lawyer Susan Chana Lask (left ) stands with Albert Florence and his wife April.

The U.S. Supreme Court will issue new rules on whether people arrested for non-violent crimes can be strip-searched.  That could mean next month, or next June, at the latest.  The justices decide when, as well as what. 

At a one-hour hearing Wednesday morning, the justices grilled the lawyers in the controversial Albert W. Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington case.  It involves a Burlco man who was arrested during a motor vehicle stop 6 years ago after the trooper discovered he had an outstanding warrant for a contempt of court charge in Essex County.  The problem was Florence had already paid the fine two years earlier. 

 It didn't matter - the computer said he didn't.

Florence was jailed, strip-searched twice, and forgotten about for six days.  These are the undisputed facts.  Read the story here:

What hasn't been decided is who is to blame and whether they should pay damages.  Florence is suing in federal court, saying his rights were violated and he suffered emotional turmoil.  But first, the Supreme Court must settle the issue of whether it's appropriate for jail officers to strip-search everyone who is arrested and processed.

Florence and his wife, April, attended court Wednesday to hear the arguments.  When they descended the many stairs outside the hallowed hall, they seemed overwhelmed by what went on.  They didn't have an immediate comment.  There was a lot to digest.  The justices had asked lots of questions about whether traffic violators, teens who break curfew, and immigrants without documentation should all be strip-searched upon arrest.  And they wanted to know how searches should be conducted so as to make sure nothing is smuggled into prison and at the same time to allow an inmate some sense of dignity.    They asked not-so-shy questions about what is done now and what should be done.  When they decide, it will be the law of the land.