Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Privacy Invasion

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Privacy Invasion

Article excerpt

BURLINGTON County resident Albert Florence was pulled over by a state trooper in 2005 and arrested on a bench warrant for an unpaid fine. Florence had paid the fine, in fact, but the computer didn't reflect it and the trooper took him away while his pregnant wife and 4-year-old son watched.

During seven days in jail before his release, Florence was strip- searched twice.

Florence thought that was a violation of his Fourth and 14th Amendment rights. Someone arrested for a minor offense shouldn't be made to take off his clothes and submit to a visually invasive inspection, he argued. Nor should he be forced to lift his genitals, squat and cough. This after Florence had already walked through a metal detector and been screened by a special device that detects metal hidden in the body.

The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed Monday, in a 5-4 decision that split predictably along ideological lines. It's a disappointing outcome that leaves local jails to do what they want, while anyone arrested and strip-searched on the most minor offense has no recourse under the law.

As Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in his dissent, "A strip search that involves a stranger peering without consent at a naked individual, and in particular at the most private portions of that person's body, is a serious invasion of privacy." He continued, "Even when carried out in a respectful manner, and even absent any physical touching ... such searches are inherently harmful, humiliating, and degrading."

People who have been forced to remove their clothes and undergo a visual search, Breyer noted, include a nun; a victim of sexual assault; motorists arrested for driving with a noisy muffler, an inoperable headlight or failure to use a turn signal, and someone who rode a bicycle without an audible bell. In other words, anyone from a jaywalker to a murderer can get the same treatment. …

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