U.S. Supreme Court to hear case on strip searches performed on N.J. man accused of unpaid traffic fine
Published: Monday, April 04, 2011, 6:55 PM Updated: Tuesday, April 05, 2011, 5:37 AM
WASHINGTON — It was a seven-day ordeal that has lasted seven years.
In March 2004, Albert Florence of Bordentown was arrested on a warrant for an outstanding traffic fine he had already paid, and then strip-searched twice in two different jails over a seven-day period.
Eventually, a judge freed Florence and dismissed all charges. He promptly filed suit, claiming his treatment was unconstitutional.
Today, after a series of rulings and appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the matter.
The case began seven years ago on Route 295 in Burlington County when a New Jersey State Trooper stopped a BMW sport utility vehicle being driven by Florence’s wife. According to court papers, the trooper checked the vehicle’s registration, which was in Florence’s name, and found he was wanted on an outstanding Essex County warrant. Florence, who works as a finance director, said he tried to show the trooper an official letter stating the warrant had been satisfied, but the trooper arrested him anyway.
Florence was taken to the Burlington County jail, where he was subjected to a strip- and cavity search. After six days, he was brought to the Essex County jail and again given a strip- and cavity search, fingerprinted, photographed and put in the general population.
A Superior Court judge ultimately dismissed all the charges and Florence filed a lawsuit in federal court, arguing that the jailhouse searches were unreasonable on the grounds that he was being held for failure to pay a fine — which is not a crime in New Jersey.
U.S. District Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez later ruled in his favor, finding it unconstitutional to strip search every defendant, regardless of their charge.