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Supreme Court Rules New Jersey County Jails Can Perform Strip Searches

April 24, 2012 | Posted In Administrative Law, Criminal Law - Searches

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that jail officials in county jails can perform strip searches even when a person has been arrested for a minor offense.  The divided 5-4 decision ruled against a New Jersey man who had been subjected to humiliating strip searches at two New Jersey county jails. 

It began in March 2005, when Albert Florence was pulled over by law enforcement officers on his way to his mother-in-law's house.  Police found that he had an unpaid fine pending against his name and took him to Burlington County Jail. Upon arrival, he was subjected to a strip search in which was ordered to strip naked, and his ears, nose, mouth and genitals were inspected.  A few days later, he was transferred to another county jail where he was strip searched again.

Florence’s ordeal ended when jail officials found that his unpaid fine had in fact been paid and was no longer valid.  He sued both the county jails where he had been strip-searched. The Supreme Court found that the jail guards at the two jails did not err in subjecting him to debasing strip searches. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, ruled that Florence’s entry to the general jail population gave the jail guards the authority to conduct a strip search. 

Disappointing Ruling for NJ Criminal Defense Lawyers

The dissenting judges argued that subjecting persons who have been arrested for minor offenses to a strip search is a violation of their privacy.  Guards must have a reasonable suspicion that a person is hiding weapons, drugs or other contraband material in his body for the search to be conducted.

New Jersey criminal defense lawyers are disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling.  Strip searches have become more common since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Courts that earlier prohibited such searches without cause have begun to allow jailers to use their discretion to determine who should be strip searched. 

The New Jersey criminal defense lawyers at Helmer Paul Conley and Kasselman represent persons charged with sex crimes, drug crimes, murder, fraud, assault and other crimes across New Jersey.


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