Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Naked Activism the Court Oversteps with Unreasonable Jail Searches

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Naked Activism the Court Oversteps with Unreasonable Jail Searches

Article excerpt

The conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has hinted strongly that universal health care legislation is an unconstitutional extension of government power. While the justices may make America safe from the imaginary danger of compulsory broccoli purchases, they are tolerant of ordinary people arrested for minor crimes being subjected to humiliating strip searches.

Consider the case of Albert Florence, arrested in New Jersey in 1998. Charged with obstruction of justice and use of a deadly weapon, he pleaded guilty to two lesser offenses and was sentenced to pay a fine in monthly installments. He fell behind in 2003, leading to a bench warrant for his arrest. However, he paid the outstanding balance less than a week later.

Two years later, a New Jersey state trooper stopped him and his wife in their automobile. That outstanding bench warrant was still in the computer system -- "for some unexplained reason," as Justice Anthony Kennedy put it in his majority opinion. He was arrested and sent to two jails over a period of six days before the charges were dismissed.

But it was not the injustice of six days in jail due to a bureaucratic screw-up over a fine already paid that was at issue before the Supreme Court. Mr. Florence sued county authorities for what happened in the jails, which made no distinction between hardened felons and others there who posed no threat to anyone.

At the first jail, he had to shower with a delousing agent. Then officers -- without touching -- checked for scars, marks, gang tattoos and contraband. Mr. Florence also said he was made to open his mouth, lift his tongue and lift his genitals. After six days, he was taken to the largest county jail in New Jersey, where he had to undergo a similar search, plus he was also made to cough in a squatting position while naked. Next day, the charges against him were dismissed. …

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