Jails may conduct strip searches of people arrested on minor offenses, the Supreme Court ruled today, 5 to 4. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said, “Correctional official have a legitimate interest, indeed a responsibility, to ensure that jails are not made less secure by reason of what new detainees may carry in on their bodies.” The court ruled against Albert Florence, who complained that strip searches in two New Jersey county jails violated his civil rights.
Florence was strip searched after his arrest on a warrant for an unpaid fine, even though the fine had been paid. The court majority rejected Florence’s suggestion that new detainees who are not arrested for serious crimes be exempt from strip searches as “unworkable,” noting that the seriousness of an offense is a poor predictor of who has contraband. In a dissent for the court’s more-liberal members, Justice Stephen Breyer said, “I cannot find justification for the strip search policy at issue here—a policy that would subject those arrested for minor offenses to serious invasions of their personal privacy.”