The court ruled against a lawsuit filed in New Jersey by Albert Florence, a 34-year-old African-American who was falsely arrested for an unpaid fine and forced to undergo strip-searches in the Burlington County Detention Center where he was held for six days and then at Essex County Correctional Facility.
He charged this humiliating procedure violated the Fourth Amendment prohibiting unreasonable searches and the 14th Amendment’s equal protection under the law provision.
After a run-in with police in 1998, Florence was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice and use of a deadly weapon. In a plea bargain deal, Florence pleaded guilty to two lesser offenses and was sentenced to pay a fine in monthly installments. After falling behind in 2003, a warrant was issued for his arrest. Florence paid off the rest of the fine less than a week later, but the warrant remained on the statewide computer database.
In March 2005 Florence and his wife were stopped in their automobile by a state trooper, who arrested him even though Florence had a letter showing the fine had been paid.
“In addressing this type of constitutional claim courts must defer to the judgment of correctional officials,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority opinion, noting that jails “admit more than 13 million inmates a year.”
As a basis for the decision, Kennedy quoted an earlier ruling that maintained “preserving internal order and discipline are essential goals that may require limitation or retraction of retained constitutional rights of both convicted prisoners and pretrial detainees.”
Restricting strip-searches to just some individuals, the black-robed administrators of class justice ruled, would be “unworkable or even give rise to charges of discriminatory application.”
The decision “was a victory for the jails and for the Obama administration, which argued for an across-the-board rule allowing strip-searches of all those entering the general jail population,” noted the April 2 London Guardian.
The ruling comes at a time when federal prisons do not have this policy and at least 10 states have laws forbidding it.
UK: no inquest, no charges for killer cops, 8 months later
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