Two jailhouse strip searches after being arrested for failing to appear at a hearing related to not paying a fine left Albert Florence questioning whether the invasive search violated his rights. He’d been arrested during a stop for a traffic violation for not paying a fine afterall, not a serious or violent felony.
The arrest turned out to be a mistake. Florence had paid the fine but because of some reporting error, the related bench warrant was never cleared. Florence was taken to a detention center after a state trooper pulled him and his wife over and found the outstanding warrant. After six days in the detention center, Florence was taken to the county jail.
At each location, Florence had to strip, shower and be checked for gang markings, scars and contraband. Once released, Florence sued based on there being no need to have strip-searched him twice for a minor offense if there was no indication that he was carrying weapons or drugs.
The U.S. Supreme Court did not agree. The Court held, in FLORENCE v. BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS OF COUNTY OF BURLINGTON et al, that a person’s expectation of privacy must be balanced with the need for safety within a prison or jail and that those working in a jailhouse are in the best position to determine who should be searched.
Of the 13 million people processed annually in jails throughout the United States, jailhouse workers often do not know of the existence of a criminal record or a reason why someone may be carrying a weapon or drugs into a jail, according to the Supreme Court. The Court noted that both Timothy McVeigh, the bomber behind the Oklahoma City disaster, and one of the 9/11 terrorists, were stopped for minor traffic violations but turned out to be major offenders.
“People detained for minor offenses can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals,” noted the Court. To sum up, if you’re arrested for any reason and taken to jail, be prepared to be strip searched.
Source: MSNBC, “Supreme Court: Strip searches in jail OK even for minor offenses,” April 2, 2012