Albert Florence, a New Jersey man believes his rights were violated because he was subjected to an invasive strip search when jailed on a minor traffic charge. The court needs to define what type of search is “reasonable.” He wants the U.S. Supreme Court to declare such searches unconstitutional.
Florence was searched twice, once when booked and again when he was moved to another jail. The 1st search: the supervising officer inspected Florence’s mouth, tongue, armpits, buttocks, and genitals. The 2nd search: Florence was forced to strip off his clothes in a shower area with four other prisoners, in close proximity and plain sight of one another, all of whom were required to open their mouths, lift their genitals, and squat and cough.
Florence, an African-American, was a passenger in a BMW driven by his wife when stopped by a state patrolman and arrested on an outstanding traffic warrant. Despite having a receipt showing the fine had been paid, he was placed in handcuffs and taken to jail where he was held for six days before authorities acknowledged that the arrest warrant was, in fact, in error.
The Balancing Act
Officials have a serious challenge keeping weapons, drugs and other contraband out of jails. Inmates, most of whom who are booked in jails have not been judged guilty of any crimes, and they do not forfeit their Fourth Amendment right against “unreasonable” searches. The Court aims to strike a balance between the constitutional rights and the legitimate needs of jails to protect the health and safety of prisoners and jailers.
Iowa Model for Strip Searches
Iowa law requires that, before conducting a strip search, jailers must have “probable cause to believe the person is concealing a weapon or contraband.” Jailers must have written authorization from a supervisor, and a search warrant, before conducting a strip search that involves “probing of any body cavity other than the mouth, ears or nose.” Such searches must be performed by a physician and out of sight of persons not conducting the search.