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SCOTUS: Strip Search OK, Upholds 3rd Cir. Florence Decision

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on April 04, 2012 1:01 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a 2010 Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on the propriety of strip searches for minor offenses in an April 2 decision.

The case, Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington, dealt with the strip search of a man on a minor traffic offense, finding that such searches were okay under the law.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy stated that corrections officers may strip-search an inmate to prevent the smuggling of weapons and drugs and to prevent the spread of disease, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Albert Florence brought the case. Seven years ago he was arrested during a traffic stop and was mistakenly charged with contempt of court for failure to pay a fine. He was erroneously held in jail for one week, despite the fact that the fine had been paid.

During the course of his detention, he was subject to two strip searches. While New Jersey law mandates that all state prison inmates can be strip-searched, county jails only allow strip searches for violent criminals or those charged with serious offenses, reports the Inquirer.

But these weren't just strip searches for contraband. Florence, a finance manager at a car dealership, was subject to a degrading strip search for disease, tattoos and scars as well.

In the dissent, however, the four liberal justices stated that jail strip searches should be limited to those cases where officers have reasonable suspicion. The dissenting justices cited that these searches are "inherently harmful, humiliating and degrading."

Do the safety and big-picture interests of jails outweigh the Fourth Amendment interests of low-level (or in this case, no-level) offenders?

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