Albert W. FLORENCE, Petitioner v. BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS OF The COUNTY OF BURLINGTON et al.

2012 WL 1069092

Facts:

• Petitioner was arrested during a traffic stop by a New Jersey state trooper who checked a statewide computer database and found a bench warrant issued for petitioner’s arrest after he failed to appear at a hearing to enforce a fine.

• He was initially detained in the Burlington County Detention Center and then to the Essex County Correctional Facility where he, like every incoming detainee, had to shower with a delousing agent and was checked for scars, marks, gang tattoos, and contraband as he disrobed. Petitioner claims that he also had to open his mouth, lift his tongue, hold out his arms, turn around, and lift his genitals. Petitioner claims that he was also required to lift his genitals, turn around, and cough while squatting.

• He was released once it was determined that the fine had been paid.

• He filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action in the Federal District Court against the government entities that ran the jails and other defendants, alleging Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations, and arguing that persons arrested for minor offenses cannot be subjected to invasive searches unless prison officials have reason to suspect concealment of weapons, drugs, or other contraband.

• The court granted him summary judgment, ruling that “strip-searching” nonindictable offenders without reasonable suspicion violates the Fourth Amendment. Counties appealed.

• The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed. Certiorari was granted.

• The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed.

Holding:

• The Supreme Court held that searches did not violate Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment.
Issue:

• Whether undoubted security imperatives involved in jail supervision override the assertion that some detainees must be exempt from the invasive search procedures at issue absent reasonable suspicion of a concealed weapon or other contraband.

Analysis:

• The U. S. Supreme Court opined that maintaining safety and order at detention centers requires the expertise of correctional officials, who must have substantial discretion to devise reasonable solutions to problems. A regulation impinging on an inmate’s constitutional rights must be upheld “if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.”

• The court found that the prison policy of searches in this case was reasonably related to legitimate security interests in prisons. The task of determining whether prison policy is reasonably related to legitimate security interests is peculiarly within province and professional expertise of corrections officials.

• In this case, the correctional officials devised reasonable search policies to detect and deter possession of contraband in their facilities. The correctional officials had a significant interest in conducting a thorough search as a standard part of the intake process.

• Security Interest outweighed the inmate’s constitutional rights:

o The admission of new inmates creates risks for staff, the existing detainee population, and the new detainees themselves. Officials therefore must screen for contagious infections and for wounds or injuries requiring immediate medical attention.

o It may be difficult to identify and treat medical problems until detainees remove their clothes for a visual inspection. Jails and prisons also face potential gang violence, giving them reasonable justification for a visual inspection of detainees for signs of gang affiliation as part of the intake process.

o Correctional officials have to detect weapons, drugs, alcohol, and other prohibited items new detainees may possess. Drugs can make inmates aggressive toward officers or each other, and drug trading can lead to violent confrontations.

o Contraband has value in a jail’s culture and underground economy, and competition for scarce goods can lead to violence, extortion, and disorder.

o Classifying inmates by their current and prior offenses before the intake search is impossible because jail officials know little at the outset about an arrestee, who may be carrying a false ID or lie about his identity.

Holding:

• Strip searching” of nonindictable offenders without reasonable suspicion does not violate the Fourth Amendment.

To read this case in its entirety visit our Criminal Law website.

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