U.S. Supreme Court To Hear Burlco Strip-Search Case Today

The lights were on late at the high court last night in advance of this morning's arguments on the strip search case. (Photo by Jan Hefler)

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments today about whether a person arrested for a nonviolent crime or a traffic violation can be legally strip-searched when brought into a local jail.  In recent years, Philadelphia, Camden County, Gloucester County and other jurisdictions have paid millions to settle class action lawsuits filed by inmates who say their Constitutional rights were violated when they were strip-searched.

The current case involves a strip search conducted at the Burlco Jail 6 years ago.  Albert Florence, a Bordentown man who is a car dealership manager, says he was subjected to a "disgusting" visual inspection after being arrested during a routine car stop.  A state trooper stopped his wife for speeding on I-295 South and when he did a motor vehicle check, discovered Albert Florence had an outstanding warrant for eluding police.

It was a clerical error - Florence had paid the fine two years earlier - and he carried paperwork with him to prove it in case he was stopped.  As an African American, he said he has been stopped several times in the past because he was racially profiled.

Florence was jailed for 6 days and strip-searched twice before the mistake was finally verified.  The high court today is being asked to consider whether anyone who is arrested, regardless of the circumstances, should be strip-searched.  In 1979, the high court said it is Constitutional to subject inmates to visual body cavity inspections after they receive visitors, to prevent contraband from being smuggled into a jail.  But since then, federal courts have interpreted the issue differently. 

The high court expects to settle the Constitutional issue for the land.