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Take it All Off? Supreme Court to Hear Prison Strip-Search Case

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

We're among the whiney air travelers who huff and puff every time we're forced to walk through the backscatter. We don't like the high-tech airport strip-search, regardless of what the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals says about its legality.

(Sidebar: If you're lounging in a Vegas pool and you realize that you have to leave for the airport NOW because your flight departs an hour earlier than you thought, change into dry clothes before entering the airport security line. We have it on good authority that metal detectors interpret wet swimsuits as radioactive material. Remember: wet swimsuit = one-way ticket to airport strip-search. Don't ask how we know).

The prison strip-search, from what we hear, is even more invasive. That's why Albert Florence, who was mistakenly arrested for an unpaid fine by New Jersey state troopers in 2005, is challenging a New Jersey policy that permits suspicionless prison strip-searches of non-violent offenders. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in his case on October 12.

Florence was strip-searched twice during the seven days he spent in prison waiting for the issue to be resolved. Other strip-searched non-violent offenders who have joined in Florence's claim spent time in the slammer for crimes like "driving with a noisy muffler, failing to use a turn signal, and riding a bicycle without an audible bell," reports The Washington Post.

Florence is asking the Supreme Court to clarify whether the Fourth Amendment permits a jail to conduct a suspicionless strip-search of every individual arrested for any minor offense. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that it does.

The American Bar Association (ABA) filed an amicus brief in the case, encouraging the Court to limit random act of stripping. The ABA argues that people arrested for minor offenses that do not involve violence or drugs should not be strip-searched. States, municipalities, and law enforcement interest groups, on the other hand, have filed briefs in favor of the blanket strip-search policy.

How do you think the Supreme Court will rule in this case? Do individual privacy rights trump jail security concerns? Should there be an exception to prison strip-searches for non-violent offenders?

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