Supreme Court to Take on Jail Strip Searches

Albert Florence's "humiliating" experience is the basis of a challenge to the constitutionality of suspicionless searches in jails.

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Albert Florence and his lawyer, Susan Chana Lask (Robert Barnes/Washington Post)

In 2005 Albert Florence was pulled over in his car and spent seven days in jail because of a warrant that said, mistakenly, that he was wanted for failure to pay a court fine.

During that time, Florence was strip-searched twice (jail officials' accounts differ, but he contends he was also ordered to "open his mouth and lift his tongue, rotate and lift his genitals"), and he says the humiliation remains with him six years later.

Florence and the class of those joining his suit against two New Jersey jails say that strip-searching him for a minor offense without any reason to believe he was smuggling contraband into the jail violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, the Washington Post reports.

Hearing his case next month, the Supreme Court will weigh an individual's privacy right against the interest of jailers in maintaining safety and security -- and decide whether such strip searches are unconstitutional.

"In the prison and jail context, privacy rights are necessarily diminished," new U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verilli Jr. wrote to the court in defense of the legality of the searches. "Corrections officials are afforded wide latitude to ensure the safety and security of their facilities."

But the American Bar Association, which is supporting Florence, says that allowing strip searches of all who are arrested would mean a drastic expansion of a procedure that the Supreme Court has called so intrusive, it falls "into a category of its own."

Read more at the Washington Post.

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