Supreme Court Ruling Allows Strip-Searches for Minor Arrests

The Supreme Court on Monday voted 5-to-4 that authorities may strip-search people for any offense, however minor, before admitting them to jails even if there is no suspicion of the presence of contraband.

“Every detainee who will be admitted to the general population may be required to undergo a close visual inspection while undressed,” Justice Kennedy wrote, adding that about 13 million people are admitted each year to the nation’s jails.

10 states and are at odds with the policies of federal authorities. According to a supporting brief filed by the American Bar Association, international human rights treaties also ban the procedures.

Daron Hall, the president of the American Correctional Association and sheriff of Davidson County, Tenn., said the association welcomed the flexibility offered by the decision. The association’s current standards discourage blanket strip-search policies.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing for the four dissenters, said the strip-searches the majority allowed were “a serious affront to human dignity and to individual privacy” and should be used only when there was good reason to do so.

Justice Breyer said that the Fourth Amendment should be understood to bar strip-searches of people arrested for minor offenses not involving drugs or violence, unless officials had a reasonable suspicion that they were carrying contraband.

According to opinions in the lower courts, people may be strip-searched after arrests for violating a leash law, driving without a license and failing to pay child support. Citing examples from briefs submitted to the Supreme Court, Justice Breyer wrote that people have been subjected to “the humiliation of a visual strip-search” after being arrested for driving with a noisy muffler, failing to use a turn signal and riding a bicycle without an audible bell.

A nun was strip-searched, he wrote, after an arrest for trespassing during an antiwar demonstration.

 

 

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