US Supreme Court Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington 10-945
by, 05-20-12 at 09:36 PM (560 Views)
This one is more directly relevant to jail staff than to police, but it's still worth knowing about. Florence was arrested for a warrant for failure to pay fines, detained for a few days between two different jails, and then released when it was determined that he had paid his fine (just a little late) and the warrant should have been quashed. At each of the jails where he was detained, he was strip searched prior to being admitted to the general population of the jail.
Florence filed a §1983 suit for violation of his 4th & 14th Amendment Rights, claiming that the strip searches were unreasonable because he was arrested for such a minor offense. He proposed guidelines that would require detention officers to refrain from such invasive searches except for serious offenses or cases where there was reasonable suspicion that the prisoner possessed contraband.
The Supreme Court held that the jail policy of strip searching all prisoners who will be admitted to general population (regardless of their behavior, the crime they were being detained for, or the presence or lack of individualized suspicion) was reasonable. The decision explains that the court should defer to jail and prison officials in matters of security unless there's some showing that the officials are exaggerating the threat or overreacting, and that the across-the-board strip search policy struck a reasonable balance between the prisoner's privacy rights and the government's interest in keeping jails secure.
The court did not address whether or not strip searches would be reasonable for prisoners who will not be interacting with other prisoners, but strongly hinted that the government shouldn't push its luck with that one.