SCOTUS Upholds Pre-Jail Strip Searches for Everyone, No Matter How Minor the Offense

Today the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment allows strip searches of "every detainee who will be admitted to the general population" of a jail, no matter how how minor his offense. The case was brought by Albert W. Florence, a New Jersey man who was arrested during a traffic stop because a database erroneously showed that he had failed to pay a fine. Florence was held for a week in two different jails and strip-searched twice before the matter was cleared up. The five justices in the majority, in an opinion by Anthony Kennedy, deferred to the judgment of correctional officials concerning which policies are appropriate to prevent weapons and other contraband from entering jails, noting that the hazard does not necessarily hinge on the seriousness of a prisoner's crime. The four other justices, in a dissenting opinion by Stephen Breyer, argued that the Fourth Amendment's ban on "unreasonable searches" requires an exception to the general strip search rule when a prisoner is charged with "a minor offense that does not involve drugs or violence," such as "a traffic offense, a regulatory offense, an essentially civil matter, or any other such misdemeanor," unless "prison authorities have reasonable suspicion to believe that the individual possesses drugs or other contraband." The New York Times reports that "at least seven" federal appeals courts had reached a similar conclusion, although in this case the 3rd Circuit ruled otherwise.

You may recall that in 2001 the Supreme Court said the Fourth Amendment does not preclude "a warrantless arrest for a minor criminal offense, such as a misdemeanor seatbelt violation punishable only by a fine." Today's ruling not only magnifies the potential humiliation associated with such an arrest; it enhances the already considerable power that police officers have to conduct searches during routine traffic stops. In states (such as Texas) that give police discretion to arrest people for minor traffic offenses such as failing to buckle your seat belt, officers can present drivers with a choice: a search of your car now or a search of your bodily orifices later. 

The Supreme Court's decision in Florence v. New Jersey is here (PDF).

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  • ||

    Who was in the majority?

  • ||

    I see the Times article tells us. I guess if I want detailed facts I should be reading the Times instead of Reason.

  • Caption||

    Yelling Officer: "Are you, or have you ever been, a homosexual!?"

  • ||

    It was 5-4. You really have to ask who was in the majority?

    Red Team 5. Blue Team 4.

  • ||

    A critical quesion that was not answered.

  • daveInAustin||

    I'm not sure what's more disturbing, the ruling, the strip search or that he was held for 2 weeks for not paying a fine that he in-fact paid.

  • robc||

    The latter.

    In my mind, the fact that they made the mistake retroactively makes the search illegal.

    Gives them an incentive to be right.

  • robc||

    It also makes them guilty of kidnapping. Which provides more incentive to damn well make sure they are right the first time.

  • robc||

    I am willing to reduce it to a lesser kidnapping offense, on the equivalent of involuntary manslaughter.

  • Charlotte Corday||

    You can beat the charge but you can't beat the ride. Cops have the ability to pretty much ruin your life on a whim.

  • ||

    That is why I give everyone that I meet who respects the fucking pigs a hard time.

  • JB||

    There are definitely times it's justified to just open fire when you see police.

    You are going to kidnap me, strip search me, and then lock me in a cage for 2 weeks? Yeah, 2 to your face sounds like a better alternative.

  • Charlotte Corday||

    And that is if they decide they don't want to just shoot you.

  • ||

    If you make officers liable for a felony if there's a wrong address on the warrant, the entire edifice of law enforcement would grind to a halt. And yes, that would be a bad thing, contrary to the anarchist fantasies routinely seeping into this bog.

    I'd be totally OK with making officers personally liable if there's evidence that they knew the arrest was illegal. Further I'd be OK with giving prisoners on minor offenses the option of going into solitary if they don't want to be strip searched.

  • ||

    Oh, it would be so horrible if LEOs were held personally accountable for their actions!

    "the entire edifice of law enforcement would grind to a halt".

    Holy Hyper-Hyperbole, batman!

    Tulpa, do you know why so many towns are named Camden / Wilkes / Wilkes Barre in the original 13?

    Its not random and it is repugnant to your view.

  • ||

    Tulpa, we don't need more laws. We need a revolution with a lot of guillotines.

  • Alan Moore||

    The Courts: "When in doubt, defer to law enforcement's desires."

  • Antonin Scalia||

    I am fat. I am Italian. And I went to a better school than you. I am telling you the professionalism of police demands that we defer to their judgment on this.

  • cynical||

    Strip searches suck, but if they're already tossing you into the general population in jail, we're pretty well past the point of respecting your liberties. Making it harder to throw people in jail for minor offenses seems like it would address both issues.

  • Monday Night Rehabilitation||

    Big Bob: I'm Big Bob. You boys ready for your cockmeat sandwich?
    Harold Lee: Uh, no.
    Big Bob: Well you better get hungry real fast... because I've got a whole lotta sandwich waiting for you!

  • ||

    Since the bulk of the contraband entering the jail/prison population comes from the guards, it's about time we strip searched them every time they enter the jail as well.

  • Charlotte Corday||

    The union would not approve. It seems a bit odd to think that people would be walking around with drugs stuck up their ass in case they are arrested and need a good fix in jail.

    These searches are about humiliation and control. They have nothing to do with contraband. Prisons cavity search all inmates after a contact visit with family. As if someone is going to manage to take drugs from their wife and stick them up their ass in a monitored open visiting room.

    If you are so sadistic and stupid you can't even be a cop, you become a prison guard.

  • jasno||

    The ruling is just stupid, but I think it is entirely plausible that someone would have contraband, missed during the first pat-down, which is placed in the old 'prison purse' on the way to county.

    Also, I wouldn't think it improbable that drug mules allow themselves to get arrested on minor offenses to support gang operations inside.

    That said, I still think it's a bad ruling.

  • ||

    And in California you'll make $100K or more.

  • ||

    It's the New Incompetency of our corrections officers.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Today the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment allows strip searches of "every detainee who will be admitted to the general population" of a jail, no matter how how minor his offense.

    The Fourth Amendment? That old thing? I'm surprised it's still around what with being penned by rich, white slaveowning males and all. Contemporary citizens don't need to be secure in their persons or property, unless they have something to hide from the paladins of law enforcement.

  • ||

    There is a dude that sems to know what time it is. Wow.

    www.Surf-Tools.tk

  • Matt O'Reilly||

    Clarance "Most 'libertarian' Justice" Thomas strikes again.

  • Sudden||

    I think the libertarian reaction to this has been a bit absurd.

    I have no issue with the ruling on the search of someone being incarcerated. My only issue is with the fact that an unpaid fine merits incarceration to begin with, but sadly that wasn't the constitutional issue in front of the court. The issue was merely the search.

    I posit that if you are going to incarcerate someone for a period of time (regardless of the dubious merits of that incarceration), you have the responsibility to the OTHER PRISONERS to ensure their safety by confirming to the greatest extent possible that there is no threat to the general population being taken into a jail in the form of a weapon.

    I just wish our justice system would do far more to encourage inmate safety by curbing prison rape and assorted violence (by both fellow inmates and prison guards).

  • ||

    This. The main issue is the unlawful arrest.

  • ||

    The responsibility to other inmates is not served by a one size fits all intrusive body exam.

    A much greater danger to the safety of the inmates is the presence of the correctional officer. We should always keep in mind that the prison guard is a unionized thug parasite who obviously cannot hack it in the private sector.

  • ||

    As Justice Breyer wrote, there was no empirical evidence to support the proposition that people arrested for unpaid fines and who did not have convictions for violent offenses in their records posed a danger to the safety of inmates.

  • ||

    In fact, prison guards pose a much greater danger to other inmates than those detained for unpaid fines and without violent offenses in their records.

  • Mensan||

    From personal experience, they hate being called prison guards, and prefer/insist on being called corrections officers. I make sure to always call them prison guards.

  • ||

    You're a good man.

  • Sudden||

    As Justice Breyer wrote, there was no empirical evidence to support the proposition that people arrested for unpaid fines and who did not have convictions for violent offenses in their records posed a danger to the safety of inmates.

    Yet further evidence that Breyer's constitutional jurisprudence (a generous phrase for his thoughts) is completely fucking absurd and based only on ends and not means.

    The question in front of the court isn't whether its an effective or reliable or necessary procedure, it's whether the procedure is permitted. The court determined that in order to ensure the safety of fellow inmates, a thorough search is permissible.

  • ||

    No, the point is that the unsupported, rank speculation offered by the proponents of the search, i.e., "danger to other inmates would ensue" is just plain ole totalitarian claptrap.

  • ||

    The text of the 4th amendment does not authorize the strip searches. Must start with the text and the intentions of the ratifiers.

    What evidence exists to support the proposition that the ratifiers approved of strip searching all inmates even those who are detained for unpaid fines and without violent offenses in their past?

    They knew full well that those who seek more and more power and those who seek to grow the state would always be counted upon to offer doomsday mushroom cloud arguments in support for the power they covet.

  • Hugo Longbone||

    Unfortunately the courts have already said you can search a person, their car (except the trunk), their baggage, if they are arrested. So, what is the distrinction between a search incident to arrest and searching one's asshole incident to imprisonment.

    Not saying I agree with it, just saying the court has engaged in so many compromises of the 4th Amendment since the 1960s, it's a fucking disaster.

  • Mensan||

    My only issue is with the fact that an unpaid a paid fine merits incarceration to begin with ...

  • Whahappan?||

    I think the fact that our "justice system" does such a deliberately poor job of curbing prison rape and violence puts the lie to the rationale of these searches being to ensure the safety of other prisoners.

  • shrike||

    Black is beautiful

  • rho||

    I think this decision works. The dissenting opinion gives far too much leeway in interpreting what constitutes a minor crime, and therefore turning the penal system into a giant whack-a-mole game where the mallet is endless lawsuits trying to divine where minor becomes major.

    I don't like it, but it's a saner decision than "I'll know it when I see it," which would be the end result of the dissenting opinion.

    My Big Idea for the day: instead of strip searches, eliminate gen pop prisons. Everybody gets lone cell with one bed. When you go in, you don't leave until your sentence is complete. If you need to exercise, there's a visible poster of yoga positions, demonstrated by a hairy fat guy. People who haven't hurt anybody don't go to prison.

  • ||

    Check out the New Yorker article regarding Solitary being cruel and unusual punishment. It changed my mind.

  • Hugo Longbone||

    I dunno for centuries men and women went into the wilderness to find penance and reformation. Also, posting no link? For shame.

  • Bradley||

    Skating over that whole issue of consent.

  • ||

    this isn't about prison

    it's jail

    your solution shows an astounding lack of understanding.not surprising for people who have facile answers for complex problems they know nothing about

    people arrested,especially for misdemeanors,and pre-trial go to JAIL not prison.

    this has nothing to do with people going in "until your sentence is complete".it's for arrest PREsentencing.there is no "sentence" to complete.

    in most misdemeanors people are either booked and released or spend A night in JAIL (not prison) and when they see the judge in the morning, they are either PR'd or released on bail

    or in rare cases they will be held up to 72 hrs at which point they must be formally charged or released.

    in either case,we are talking jail and no SENTENCES apply since this is post-arrest not post CONVICTION incarceration

    EVERYBODY going PRISON pursuant to a SENTENCE is strip searched.

    duh

  • Joe M||

    Man, what the fuck good is Justice Thomas if he can't join with the liberal wing on opinions like this?

  • Alice Bowie||

    Vote Republican. We'll get two more Alitos and you people can forget the liberty part of liberal or libertarian.

    You people know the police, unless you are on Scalia's camp where cops use 'professionalism'.

    Now, they'll strip search just about anyone and probably anywhere.

  • Sudden||

    Now, they'll strip search just about anyone and probably anywhere.

    Were you capable of speaking in non-hyperbolic terms or of basic reading comprehension, you'd recognize that the search here is fully incident to incarceration and the justification lies not on the nature of the crime for which the incarceration occurs (and I'd fully agree that unpaid fines does not merit incarceration).

    Therefore, you're either a) being deliberately provocative in your invocation of the possibility of being strip searched along a major thoroughfare for the crime of jaywalking or b) you're just fucking stupid.

    I lean towards B.

  • Alice Bowie||

    So, in Florida, I can shoot someone and as long as no ones around and I merely tell Bubba-the-cop that it was in self defense, No arrest, no general population.

    For jaywalking, i can be arrested and strip-searched...Ain't that America.

  • ||

    America is a fucking police state because it is populated by people who respect the police.

  • ||

    no, you can shoot someone and if the evidence supports your assertion, you don't get arrested.

    as happens probably nearly every day in america

    heck, happened the other day not far from where i live when some nimrod broke into a home

  • anarch||

    This will give police more power to discourage anything they want to discourage, such as attempting to file a complaint.

  • ||

    I live in Glenwood IL. The cops arrested a lady for disorderly conduct because she filed a complaint about Officer Willett sticking his hand down her pants durring a traffic stop. Willett got promoted to sergeant. My website GlenwoodGossip.com was stopped by a gag order from U.S. Judge Joan Gottschall.

  • ||

    derp derp derp

    seriously. it's "the cops suck derp derp " grievance day at reason.com

    much like every other day.

    and the rest of the country goes on getting on

  • ||

    Tell me again why I should think the Supreme Court gives a fuck about the rights of anybody not politically important.

  • ||

    It also makes them guilty of kidnapping. Which provides more incentive to damn well make sure they are right the first time.

    No shit.

    I'll be right here, holding my breath.

  • ||

    i ph33l your pain. oh, the horror

    kidnapping

    lol

  • ||

    If you make officers liable for a felony if there's a wrong address on the warrant, the entire edifice of law enforcement would grind to a halt.

    Who's being hysterical now?

  • copy editor||

    Not to speak of mixing metaphors.

  • ||

    I would have like to have searched these inmates.

    http://www.newser.com/story/14.....-case.html

  • PETE||

    I really like reading this site even though I'm a statist tool. So it saddens me when I come here and see only 56 comments on a post that, you would think, would have Libertarians spitting blood. I guess this isn't as critical an issue as liberals criticizing El Rushbo.

  • Paul||

    Dear Tea Party tools. Please hear this message. To be frank, the Democratic party isn't going to violate your ass on a whim, as opposed to the Republican candidates. You should probably reconsider your alliances given the complete failure of "conservative" law. Federalism is a sham perpetuated by anal rapists.

  • ||

    this is why legislatures or citizen initiative should decrim traffic offenses.

    i would never choose to live in a state that hadn't decrim'd traffic offenses

    note also that the federal appeals court that allows this stuff is the exception, not a rule

    in many jurisdictions, we cannot strip search for the vast majority of misdemeanor offenses, and not even for many felony offenses

  • Alice Bowie||

    The problem is the SCOTUS gave police too too many give-aways at traffic stop.

    People that are passengers in a car can be searched. The cops can ask passengers to take off shoes. In NYC, they sometimes make the passengers pull down their pants to make sure they don't have crack. In the Bronx, the narcs recently started putting on latex gloves and put their hands down your pants. And this is not to the guy running a red light or speeding...it's for the passengers.

  • ||

    Encourages me to shoot first, if I'm ever approached by a gun toting government employee.

  • ||

    Whatever happened to "live free or die"

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