The Supreme Court ruled Monday that jailers may subject people arrested for minor offenses to invasive strip searches, siding with security needs over privacy rights.
By a 5-4 vote, the court ruled against a New Jersey man who complained that strip searches in two county jails violated his civil rights.
Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion for the court's conservative justices that when people are going to be put into the general jail population, "courts must defer to the judgment of correctional officials unless the record contains substantial evidence showing their policies are an unnecessary or unjustified response to problems of jail security."
In a dissenting opinion joined by the court's liberals, Justice Stephen Breyer said strip searches improperly "subject those arrested for minor offenses to serious invasions of their personal privacy." Breyer said jailers ought to have a reasonable suspicion someone may be hiding something before conducting a strip search.
Albert Florence was forced to undress and submit to strip searches following his arrest on a warrant for an unpaid fine, though the fine actually had been paid. Even if the warrant had been valid, failure to pay a fine is not a crime in New Jersey.