We want to finish up our discussion of the U.S. Supreme Court case about strip searches and Fourth Amendment rights before we talk about the Trayvon Martin “stand your ground” case. In our last post, we went over the majority opinion that said the strip searches were not unreasonable because they served a legitimate purpose. Jails and prisons are dangerous places, the court said, and the safety and health of inmates and corrections personnel take priority over a detainee’s individual rights. Even the most minor of criminal offenses will not excuse a detainee from such a search.
There is one condition: The facility must conduct these searches routinely, as a matter of policy. If the plaintiff can prove that the policy is not a necessary, justified response to jail security concerns, the court would consider the search unreasonable. The majority seemed to establish a presumption that correctional officials have good reason to strip search every detainee, regardless of the severity of the crime: Plaintiffs must provide substantial evidence to support their arguments.
Four justices sharply disagreed. The dissenting opinion pointed out that inmates in the jails in question went through additional security measures before the strip search. There was a pat-down search; detainees passed through a metal detector and showered with delousing agents; during the showers, officers searched the detainees’ clothing.
The dissent concluded that the close visual inspection was improper and a “serious invasion” of privacy for detainees held for minor offenses — the opinion included examples of strip searches conducted on detainees held for crimes like biking with an inaudible bell and walking a dog without a leash.
We’ll finish up in our next post.
National Public Radio, “Supreme Court Upholds Invasive Strip Searches,” Associated Press, April 2, 2012
Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington, — S.Ct. —-, 2012 WL 1069092 (U.S.), April 2012, via Westlaw