Monday, April 2, 2012

“Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.”

“Turn around,” Mr. Florence recalled being told by jail officials. “Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.”

The New York Times informs us that the Supreme Court ruled on Monday " that officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense, however minor, before admitting them to jails even if the officials have no reason to suspect the presence of contraband."

The majority opinion was written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who declared "every detainee who will be admitted to the general population may be required to undergo a close visual inspection while undressed."

Kennedy gave three reasons to justify routine searches — detecting lice and contagious infections, looking for tattoos and other evidence of gang membership and preventing smuggling of drugs and weapons.

The opinion of the four dissenters, authored by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, declared that strip-searches improperly "subject those arrested for minor offenses to a serious affront to human dignity and to individual privacy” and should be used only when there was good reason to do so. Breyer said jailers should have a reasonable suspicion someone may be hiding something before conducting a strip-search.

In his dissent, Breyer also pointed out that inmates in the two New Jersey jails already have to submit to pat-down searches, pass through metal detectors, shower with delousing agents and have their clothing searched.

The lower courts and Justice Breyer pointed to potential examples that might now trigger a strip-search, such as violating a leash law, driving without a license and failing to pay child support.

But let's look at the basis of the court's decision, which was even more egregious than the examples cited. Once again, courtesy of the New York Times.
The Supreme Court case arose from the arrest of Albert W. Florence in New Jersey in 2005. Mr. Florence was in the passenger seat of his BMW when a state trooper pulled his wife, April, over for speeding. A records search revealed an outstanding warrant based on an unpaid fine. (The information was wrong; the fine had been paid.)
A story by the Associated Press story contains additional details.
Florence, who is African-American, had been stopped several times before, and he carried a letter to the effect that the fine, for fleeing a traffic stop several years earlier, had been paid.

His protest was in vain, however, and the trooper handcuffed him and hauled him off to jail.
That's right. Even in the case of a man erroneously arrested for an already-paid fine, when traveling as a passenger in a car where the driver was cited for speeding, the Supremes have ruled that a strip-search is just fine with them. It's worth noting that even if the warrant had been valid, failure to pay a fine is not a crime in New Jersey. Oh, and before I forget, he was strip-searched twice.

I wasn't even aware that the police could insist on the identity of a passenger in a car who himself had done nothing wrong to warrant the stop. Silly me.

At least the dissent expressed some understanding of the Fourth Amendment, however minor.
In his dissent in the case, Florence v. County of Burlington, No. 10-945, Justice Breyer wrote that the Fourth Amendment should be understood to prohibit strip-searches of people arrested for minor offenses not involving drugs or violence unless officials had a reasonable suspicion that the people to be searched were carrying contraband.
In his majority opinion, Justice Kennedy points out that about 13 million people are admitted to the nation's jails each year. If you do the math, that means that 1 out of 24 people in this country are headed for the hoosegow each and every year. And now they will all get a chance to "Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks."

The ACLU has already rung in with their opinion as well.
“Today’s decision jeopardizes the privacy rights of millions of people who are arrested each year and brought to jail, often for minor offenses,” said Steven R. Shapiro, legal director of the ACLU. “Being forced to strip naked is a humiliating experience that no one should have to endure absent reasonable suspicion. Jail security is important, but it does not require routinely strip searching everyone who is arrested for any reason, including traffic violations, and who may be in jail for only a few hours. ”
Regular readers of The Tireless Agorist will recall First Amendment (1791-2012) R.I.P. which discusses H.R. 347, which criminalizes "free speech" anywhere the Secret Service has a presence, as well as any area "restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance," which in general includes both major political party's national conventions, and in the past has included even the Olympics and Superbowls. Now those arrested for exercising their free speech in such locations will have the joy of undergoing a complete strip search... whether they are eventually proven guilty or not.

So the next time you're preparing to leave the house, remember that old saying about wearing clean underwear because you never know when you'll be in an accident... and remember to append to that old saw, "...or get arrested."

...and that's all I have to say about that.

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