The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a number of criminal cases during the 2011-2012 term. One case in particular has attracted the attention of states’ attorneys general and criminal defense attorneys — on opposite sides. The case is about strip searches in jails and whether they are appropriate when the prisoner is not accused of a violent crime.
The chief law enforcement officers from 12 states, including North Carolina, support the jails’ argument that strip search laws should be uniform. To make exceptions according to the detainee’s alleged offense would not only be confusing but would put the health and safety of personnel and the jail’s general population at risk.
Defense attorneys agree with the petitioner that a strip search without reasonable suspicion is a violation of a detainee’s Fourth Amendment rights.
The incident that sparked this debate occurred in March 2005. The petitioner and his family were driving along a New Jersey highway when a state trooper pulled the car over. When the petitioner said he was the owner of the vehicle, the officer ran a records check.
The check showed an outstanding warrant for the petitioner. He was wanted for an unpaid traffic fine, but the fine had been paid. Because this had happened before, the petitioner carried a letter with him that said the fine had been paid.
The letter wasn’t enough for this trooper — he slapped handcuffs on the petitioner, who is African American — and took him to jail.
What happened — and didn’t happen — over the next few days would eventually lead the petitioner to the Supreme Court.
Continued in our next post.
Source: National Public Radio, “High Court Looks at Routine Strip Searches in Jail,” Oct. 12, 2011