In Favor of Jailhouse Strip Searches
for even the most minor offenses
The Supreme Court ruled “every detainee who will be admitted to the general population” of a jail is subject to full strip searches, regardless of how minor his offense. The case, Florence v. New Jersey, involved a New Jersey man who was arrested during a traffic stop because an error showing he had failed to pay a fine. During the two weeks Florence was held in custody he visited two different jails and strip-searched twice before the matter was cleared up.
The court voted 5-4 that the court should defer to the judgment of correctional officials concerning which policies are appropriate to prevent weapons and other contraband from entering jails. The majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, noted the seriousness of a prisoner’s crime does not predetermine the likelyhood the suspect could have contraband.
The minority opinion by Stephen Breyer, argue 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…or any other such misdemeanor.” Requiring “prison authorities have reasonable suspicion to believe that the individual possesses drugs or other contraband.” This ruling vastly increases the power police officer have to conduct vehicle searches during routine traffic stops, especially in states like Nevada where police routinely arrest people for misdemeanors as minor as jaywalking. Officers can use this ruling to force compliance with warrant vehicle searches. Cops will offer motorists the choice between allowing a search of their vehicle or a search of their body cavities.