Albert Florence and his wife were stopped by a state trooper for a traffic violation. The officer ran a wants and warrants check and thought there was a warrant for his arrest. In fact, there had been an old warrant for failure to pay a fine, but the fine was paid and the warrant was discharged – something that the statewide computer failed to reflect.
Mr. Florence was taken to the local jail and to a detention facility in New Jersey. He was released after a week when the charges against him were finally dismissed by the system.
In between, at both facilities, he was subject to a close visual inspection of his naked body and body cavities by correction officers. He challenged the strip searches as a violation of his constitutional right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Mr. Flores’ constitutional claim. Prioritizing the right of corrections officials to engineer jail policy over the freedom of individuals from arbitrary bodily invasions, the Supreme Court held that they must “defer to the judgment of correctional officials” unless there is “substantial evidence showing the policies are an unnecessary or unjustified response to the problems of jail security.” The court found that discovering contraband, detecting communicable diseases, and identifying gang tattoos were interests that could justify detention facilities performing suspicionless strip searches on all new detainees. The majority opinion was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy. Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined the dissent.