4/3/2012US Supreme Court Upholds Strip Searches for Parking Tickets
Motorists accused of any offense, no matter how minor, can be strip searched according to a US Supreme Court ruling.
Motorists can be strip searched over false allegations of unpaid parking tickets, the US Supreme Court ruled yesterday. A narrow 5 to 4 majority of justices held that it is more important for prison facilities to maintain security than to allow individuals charged with the most minor of infractions to avoid humiliation.
New Jersey resident Albert Florence was was making monthly payments on a civil fine and briefly fell behind in 2003. A warrant was issued for his arrest. Even though Florence promptly corrected the situation by paying within a week, the warrant improperly remained on his record. In 2005, a state trooper pulled Florence and his wife over in Burlington County and proceeded to arrest him based on what he saw on the computer readout. Florence was held for six days at the Burlington County Detention Center before being transferred to the Essex County Correctional Facility.
Florence was forced to strip and was blasted in a shower with a delousing agent. Guards then performed a visual inspection of his body cavities. A day after being admitted to the Essex County jail, the charges were dropped and Florence was released.
"A regulation impinging on an inmate's constitutional rights must be upheld if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority, citing prior precedent. "The difficulties of operating a detention center must not be underestimated by the courts... Maintaining safety and order at these institutions requires the expertise of correctional officials, who must have substantial discretion to devise reasonable solutions to the problems they face."
The majority held that it is too difficult for a jail to determine which alleged offenders are a risk for smuggling, and which are not. For that reason, the justices held it made sense to allow a policy that searches everyone without exception -- even those who have not been convicted of any crime or even had a hearing before a judge.
"People detained for minor offenses can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals," Kennedy wrote. "One of the terrorists involved in the September 11 attacks was stopped and ticketed for speeding just two days before hijacking Flight 93."
The courts' four liberal justices insisted the jails' highly invasive procedures are textbook examples of unreasonable search when applied to those accused of a number of minor infractions listed in the dissent.
"They include individuals detained for such infractions as driving with a noisy muffler, driving with an inoperable headlight, failing to use a turn signal, or riding a bicycle without an audible bell," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote. "They include persons who perhaps should never have been placed in the general jail population in the first place."
The dissent cited the example of an Orange County, New York facility that searched 23,000 inmates with only five examples of contraband detected through the strip search. The dissent proposed that such searches only be conducted based on reasonable suspicion.
A copy of the decision is available in a 250k PDF file at the source link below.