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U.S. Supreme Court to hear case of New Jersey strip search

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to accept an unusual case that began on Route 295, about 75 miles south of Bergen County.

In March of 2004, Albert Florence was a passenger in a vehicle driven by his then-pregnant wife. Seven years later, his case is about to be heard by the highest court in the land.

What happened? Florence was arrested on a warrant for an outstanding fine on a traffic offense. But Florence already paid the fine. Regardless, when he was taken in by officers, he was strip-searched in two different jails over the next week.

The charges against him were later dismissed.

He then filed a lawsuit that has now wound its way through the system and is to be presented this fall to the court.

Florence's argument is that he was arrested for not paying a fine. Failure to pay a fine on a traffic ticket is not a crime, however, so he contends that he shouldn't have been subject to a strip search.

A U.S. District judge ruled in Florence's favor, saying that it was unconstitutional to a strip search and cavity examination on every person, regardless of the accusation against them.

But county officials appealed the ruling, saying the searches are necessary to uncover medical issues among people about to be detained, as well as to find any possible hidden drugs or weapons, gang tattoos, and so on.

Last year, an appeals court rules overturned the lower court decision, saying that for safety reasons counties need to be able to strip search everyone in custody.

Which way will the court go on this issue? It's impossible to know, but many observers think it's likely the court will rule in favor of allowing the blanket searches.

Resource: The Star-Ledger: "U.S. Supreme Court to hear case on strip searches performed on N.J. man accused of unpaid traffic fine" by Ted Sherman: April 4, 2011