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Wrongly Arrested NJ Man Wants Supreme Court to Hear His Case on Jailhouse Strip Searches

Posted Mar 8, 2011 11:20 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The U.S. Supreme Court will likely decide this month whether to accept the case of a New Jersey man who is challenging the constitutionality of jailhouse strip searches.

Albert Florence was arrested in 2005 on an outstanding warrant for an unpaid fine for a traffic offense, even though he had a document with him showing it had been paid, the New York Times reports.

The problems began during a traffic stop for speeding. Florence’s wife was driving his BMW and he was a passenger. Florence, a black man who works as a finance director at a car dealership, keeps the document showing payment handy because he believes police have a penchant for pulling over black men who drive nice cars. Despite his protests, he was held in jail for eight days and strip searched twice.

According to the cert petition (PDF posted by the Times), the issue is whether the Fourth Amendment permits a jail to conduct a suspicionless strip search of every individual arrested for any minor offense.

Federal appeals courts are divided on the question, making it more likely that the court will accept the case, the Times says. Courts that allow such searches have cited the 1979 Supreme Court decision Bell v. Wolfish, which allowed strip searches of jailed detainees after contact visits with outsiders.

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