A New Jersey man lost his appeal to the Supreme Court regarding invasive
strip searches for minor offenses that take place in jails. The court
ruled that security takes precedence over privacy in potentially dangerous
situations. This is a disappointing ruling for many criminal defense attorneys.
The case stems from an incident with a New Jersey man who was strip searched
two different times following his arrest on an unpaid
traffic violation -- fleeing a traffic stop, which he had already paid.
The man was a passenger in the car that his pregnant wife was driving along
with his 4-year-old son. His wife was pulled over for speeding, but the
court felt that the circumstance of his arrest wasn't critical in
their decision. When officers pulled the vehicle over, they found a warrant
out for the man's arrest for the unpaid fine and arrested him. The
man had been stopped before and carried a letter documenting that he had
paid the fine. The man showed the officer the document, but the officer
still arrested him and took him to jail.
He was subject to a strip search to make sure that he was not hiding anything.
While awaiting a hearing, he remained in custody and was transferred to
another facility six days later. Upon his arrival, he was subjected to
another strip search. After seven days, he had his hearing and the charges
were dismissed and the man filed his lawsuit.
Attorneys for the man argued that people who are pulled over unexpectedly,
usually aren't trying to hide anything and that even if the warrant
had been valid, failure to pay a fine is not a crime in New Jersey and
he shouldn't have been subjected to a strip search.
Prior to the terrorist attacks in 2001, the lower courts prohibited routine
strip searches for minor offenses, but in recent years, the courts have
allowed jails more discretion of searches based on security.
The court felt that in this case the man was held with other inmates and
the jail had the right to do a strip search for the safety of the inmate
population and guards.
The man in this case may pursue other claims, including that he should
never have been arrested in the first place.
Source: USA Today, "High court upholds jailhouse strip searches," April 2, 2012