Supreme Court is asked about jails’ blanket strip-search policies
Robert Barnes/WASHINGTON POST - Albert Florence and his lawyer Susan Chana Lask. The Supreme Court next month will hear his case about whether jail officials violated Florence’s constitutional rights by strip-searching him after he was detained on a minor offense.
By Robert Barnes, Published: September 12, 2011
NEWARK — Almost everyone can agree that what happened to Albert Florence in 2005 sounds shocking.
A New Jersey state trooper pulled over their car as Florence and his family were on their way to his mother-in-law’s to celebrate their new home. He was handcuffed and arrested in front of his distraught, pregnant wife and young son.
He spent seven days in jail because of a warrant that said, mistakenly, he was wanted for failure to pay a court fine. In fact, he carried proof that the fine had been paid years earlier.
And he was strip-searched twice, the humiliation that he says most remains with him six years later.
But the question for the Supreme Court next month — when it will weigh an individual’s privacy right against the interest of jailers in maintaining safety and security — is whether such strip searches are unconstitutional.
Florence says that strip-searching him for a minor offense without any reason to believe he was smuggling contraband into the jail violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The jails and their advocates say that Florence’s solution — requiring reasonable suspicion to strip-search those with minor charges — would in practice create a route for those intent on smuggling weapons or contraband into jails.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta said that under such a policy, gang members might “coerce, cajole or intimidate” others into getting arrested on minor charges just to smuggle contraband.
Florence’s lawyer, Susan Chana Lask, calls such arguments “cop-outs.”
She said in her brief to the court that 18 states, including New Jersey, prohibit suspicionless search. And she said there was no proof or logic supporting the argument that people would try to get arrested on minor charges to bring contraband into a jail.
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