Strip Search Ruling May Scare You Straight

U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court says you can be strip searched even if you are arrested for not wearing a seatbelt.  Or you didn't leash your pooch. Or you   forgot to use your turn signal. Or your muffler is too noisy. 


It's enough to scare you straight.

There are some chilling true-life tales tucked into the 40-plus pages that the high court published Monday after it ruled that strip searches may be necessary to ensure safety in the jails across the land.  Otherwise, the court said, people who are arrested and placed in the general jail population may smuggle in weapons or drugs.  Or, they may have contagious diseases or lice that would spread to other inmates.  Or, they might have tattoos that show they are in a violent gang and should be segregated. 

Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority in the 5-4 decision, said the court should defer to corrections authorities because it's their job to keep control of the jails.  To be fair, the swing justice wondered why anyone would be arrested for some of the more minor offenses and then placed into the general population.  But he said that's an issue for another day.  

The case came to the Supreme Court when a Burlington County man was erroneously arrested on a bench warrant - for an unpaid fine that he had indeed paid.  Albert Florence, of Bordentown, was then jailed for one week and strip-searched twice before an Essex County judge angrily ordered him to be freed.   

Writing the dissenting opinion, Justice Breyer said strip searches for minor offenses are a violation of a person's constitutional rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.  He mentioned real examples of strip search cases around the country that convinced him it is time to put an end to the practice.  The searches should take place, he said, only if there's reasonable suspicion a person may be trying to bring in contraband.

Among the examples he cited were the case of an older nun who was ordered to disrobe and be inspected by a guard after she was arrested for trespassing during an antiwar demonstration.  Then, there was the case of the person who was detained and strip-searched for riding a bicycle without an audible bell.