It is estimated that about 700,000 people are jailed every year for minor misdemeanor offenses. Albert Florence had been jailed twice over a six day period in New Jersey for an unpaid traffic fine. Both times he was strip searched. He argued that the strip search violated his constitutional privacy rights by subjecting him to unreasonable searches. During oral arguments before the Supreme Court today, the justices asked detailed questions about the intrusiveness of different kinds of searches such as a jail guard's visual inspection of a naked detainee, a body cavity search and making a detainee squat and cough. The also questioned how close a jail guard can get to a prisoner when they are required to change clothes and take a shower when they enter a jail. The attorneys for the jails and the Obama administration argued for an across-the-board rule that allows jail guards to strip search anyone who enters any jail for any reason. They cited the growing problem of drugs in jails to justify such a position. They also argued that jail guards must make quick decisions and cannot afford to be wrong. The attorney for Albert Florence argued that jail guards should have reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing before they could strip search an inmate.
The Supreme Court considered a strip search case in 1999 when they upheld the strip search of prisoners after they had contacts with prisoners.
The case is Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington, No. 10-945. A decision is expected by early next year.
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