Ruling Strips Away Dignity and Privacy Rights

The Supreme Court's recent decision means anyone who gets arrested can face a strip search.

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The case before the court arose from the 2005 arrest of Florence seven years later. When his BMW was pulled over by police in Burlington County, N.J., Florence wasn't even driving (pdf). The car was driven by his pregnant wife. His 4-year-old son was in the car, and the family was returning from a gathering to celebrate the Florences' purchase of a new home. Police asked who owned the car, and when Florence provided his identification, officers ran his name through a database, which incorrectly indicated that his contempt fine remained unpaid.

Florence, a black businessman and father of four, showed the police his proof of payment on the judgment, to no avail. He was arrested and taken to the county jail. There, and at another jail to which he was transferred, Florence was subjected to two strip searches -- once in the company of other arrestees, even though he presented no known threat to officers or other prisoners.

Although he should have been taken before a magistrate within 24 hours, Florence remained in jail for six days before he saw a judge. He was released immediately once it was determined that he had been arrested in error. Florence described the strip searches as humiliating experiences that made him feel like an animal. It has never been made clear why officers pulled over Florence's car. (To hear Albert Florence's story in his own words, go here.)

On the day his case was to be argued in the Supreme Court, Florence expressed his excitement about the hearing and his faith in the judicial system. Justice Kennedy's opinion shamefully repays Florence's confidence in our judicial system with a cramped, narrow reading of the Fourth Amendment and with a cold rejection of the right of those who are innocent until proven guilty to be free from the government's intrusion on their dignity and bodily integrity.

Sherrilyn A. Ifill is a professor of law at the University of Maryland and a regular contributor to The Root.

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