The Supreme Court decided last week that there was no constitutional bar to mandated strip searches for all individuals that are to be admitted into a jail’s general population. In other words, strip searches by the police are permissible no matter the infraction – even for arrests for crimes as minor as failing to pay a fine or driving without insurance
Our Annapolis-based criminal defense attorneys have to knowledge and background to protect the rights of criminal defendants. Every stage in a criminal proceeding, from the arrest and initial booking (and potentially-accompanying strip search) to the culmination of a trial are moments when a defendant needs proper representation to protect his or her rights.
In the Supreme Court’s decision, Florence v. Board of Freeholders, the Supreme Court addressed Albert Florence’s claims that his civil rights were violated. Mr. Florence was arrested in 2005 when his car, being driven by his wife, was pulled over by the police for speeding. His crime? According to an inaccurate warrant, he had failed to pay a fine; in reality, the warrant should not have been issued, but was because of a computer error. After his arrest, he was twice strip searched, and then held for six days without charge, until the police realized the mistake.
The Supreme Court had to determine whether Mr. Florence’s rights were violated by the two strip searches, following his arrest for a nonviolent crime, when there was no suspicion that he had drugs or weapons on him. Ultimately, the Supreme Court held that Mr. Florence’s rights were not violated, because jail security was more pressing than Mr. Florence’s privacy. According to Justice Kennedy, who drafted the opinion,
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.
While those words might suggest some instance where strip searches would be unreasonable, such would almost never be the case. Any time an individual is coming into the jail, concerns for the security of the officers and other inmates will override the arrestee’s personal issues of privacy. The only time that would not apply is if there is substantial evidence that an individual does not pose a risk. And the fact that the individual was arrested for a minor crime does not meet the “substantial evidence” standard. “Correctional officials must be permitted to devise reasonable search policies to detect and deter the possession of contraband in their facilities.”
Justice Kennedy stated:
There is a substantial interest in preventing any new inmate, either of his own will or as a result of coercion, from putting all who live or work at these institutions at even greater risk when he is admitted to the general population.
While exceedingly invasive searches might warrant a tougher standard for police, this ruling grants police departments wide-ranging authority to conduct strip searches of almost everyone that is placed under arrest.
The Brassel, Alexander & Rice is an Annapolis criminal defense and personal injury law firm that provides quality representation to our clients. If you or someone you know has been arrested or is being investigated for a crime in Maryland contact the Maryland criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice at 443-481-7933 for a free consultation.