|Justice Anthony Kennedy|
The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that jails are allowed to conduct invasive strip searches on new inmates without any suspicion, regardless of the offense(s) the individual alleged committed.
While tragic, this decision is hardly surprising given the fact that the United States has descended into a hellish police state where even children are targeted by police officers and almost anything you do can be considered an indicator of terrorism.
This also perfectly exemplifies what I like to call the de facto dual justice system, wherein police are allowed to get away with murder and the brutal assault of elderly people with dementia, while average people are arrested and thrown in jail for failing to finish a siding project.
To make matters even worse for this ruling in the case of Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington et al., which I personally believe is ludicrous, the case in question involved a man who was arrested on a warrant for an unpaid fine which he had actually paid. Even if he hadn’t paid the fine, it would not be a crime in the state of New Jersey where this took place.
In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy asserted that when people are placed into the jail’s general population, “courts must defer to the judgment of correctional officials unless the record contains substantial evidence showing their policies are an unnecessary or unjustified response to problems of jail security.”
In other words, give the power to the so-called “correctional” officials and unless someone can present a great deal of evidence showing violations, they will simply ignore it and pretend that the jailers are treating prisoners fairly.
One of their justifications was that “[p]eople detained for minor offenses can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals.”
In an attempt to back up this claim, they invoked the tragic events of September 11, 2001. “One of the terrorists involved in the September 11 attacks was stopped and ticketed for speeding just two days before hijacking Flight 93,” Kennedy claimed.
However, those who are informed would likely laugh Kennedy out of the room along with the U.S. ambassador who recently claimed that al Qaeda could plan another 9/11 if we leave Afghanistan.
Kennedy cited three main supposed justifications for the invasive strip searches: finding lice and contagious infections and illnesses before people are placed in the jail’s general population, discovering tattoos which might be evidence of gang affiliation, and preventing drugs and other contraband from being smuggled into the jail.
Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Elena Kagan dissented.
In the dissenting opinion Justice Breyer noted that strip searches, in fact, “subject those arrested for minor offenses to serious invasions of their personal privacy.”
He also pointed out that in the two New Jersey jails where Florence was detained already force inmates to submit to pat-downs in addition to making them walk through metal detectors, shower with delousing agents and have their clothing searched by police.
Furthermore, Breyer stated that jailers should have a reasonable suspicion that an individual may be concealing something before conducting an invasive strip search.
He also cited multiple jails, states and associations of corrections officials who state that strip searches should only be conducted when there is reasonable suspicion. These could include arrests for drug charges or violent crimes, but definitely not arrests for unpaid fines which were actually paid.
They also pointed out just how invasive strip searches can be by highlighting that male detainees are subjected to the “spreading and/or lifting [of] his testicles” while female detainees are forced to “squat to expose the vagina.”
Furthermore, Florence alleged that he “had to remove his clothing while an officer looked for body markings, wounds and contraband; had an officer look at his ears, nose, mouth, hair, scalp, fingers, hands, armpits, and other body openings; had a mandatory shower; and had his clothes examined.
Petitioner [Florence] claims that he was also required to lift his genitals, turn around, and cough while squatting.”
“In my view, such a search of an individual arrested for a minor offense that does not involve drugs or violence — say a traffic offense, a regulatory offense, an essentially civil matter, or any other such misdemeanor — is an ‘unreasonable search’ forbidden by the Fourth Amendment, unless prison authorities have reasonable suspicion to believe that the individual possesses drugs or other contraband,” Breyer wrote.
The court ruled against Albert Florence, a man from New Jersey, who alleged that strip searches in two separate county jails violated his civil rights.
Florence was forced to remove all of his clothing and subject himself to strip searches after he was arrested on a warrant issued for an unpaid fine (which, as previously mentioned, had actually been paid).
Instead of addressing this troubling fact, Kennedy chose to focus on the fact that Florence was placed in the jail’s general population with other inmates.
Chief Justice John Roberts along with Justice Samuel Alito wrote in their concurring opinions that their decision still allowed the possibility for an exception to the rule and might not be applicable to an individual held separately from the general population.
Florence was subjected to his first strip search in southern New Jersey at the Burlington County Jail, while his second invasive search took place six days later when he was transferred to another country jail in Newark.
During this time, Florence had not received a hearing and remained in custody. The day after his second strip search a judge dismissed all of the charges against him and soon after he filed his lawsuit.
Florence has stated that he might still pursue other lawsuits including a claim surrounding the fact that he should have never been arrested to begin with.
The trials and tribulations of Florence began all the way back in March of 2005.
He was on his way to dinner at the home of his mother-in-law with both his 4-year-old child and pregnant wife in the vehicle with him.
Florence’s wife, April, was driving when a New Jersey state trooper pulled over the family’s SUV, at which time Florence identified himself as the owner of the vehicle.
When the trooper checked their records, he discovered that there was a warrant for Florence’s arrest for a failure to appear at a hearing to enforce a fine.
Due to the fact that Florence had been stopped multiple times before, he carried a letter which showed that the fine, which was issued for fleeing a traffic stop years before, had actually already been paid.
This letter did nothing to convince the trooper who put Florence in handcuffs and took him to jail.
It is somewhat worth pointing out that, according to the Associated Press, the New Jersey State Police were, at the time, operating under a court order which provided federal monitors to assess stops of minority drivers made by the state police.
This court order came as a result of allegations of racial discrimination, but Florence was not questioning the legitimacy of the stop or alleging any racial discrimination.
The insanely wide-ranging search policy dates back to 2008 when appeals courts around the United States including San Francisco, Atlanta and Philadelphia, ruled that jails had the authority to conduct invasive searches on anyone regardless of why they were detained.
This Supreme Court decision upheld the ruling of the Philadelphia court, which was in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, allowing for invasive searches without any suspicion whatsoever for absolutely any arrest, even unpaid fines or any other minor misdemeanor.
You can hear Florence explain some of the details of the case in his own words below:
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