Supreme Court approves strip searches for minor offenses

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court endorsed yet another step in the judicial March to acquiescence in the creation and maintenance of the modern U.S. police state. The opinion, while light on the law, is replete with a parade of unimaginable horrors that might occur should a court dare to second guess a jailer's decisions to strip-search everyone taken to jail - even for the most minor of offenses which could not result in jail time even after a conviction.

Failing to fully strip search those arrested for minor offenses could introduce diseases like MRSA; Parasites like lice or scabies; Drugs, weapons, and other contraband. Furthermore, according to the court, those arrested for minor offenses "can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals." They might be gang members, murders or rapists. If course the jailers must identify and (one preujmes) segregate these monsters from the rest of the jail population.

The fundamental problem here is that the court while talking about possibilities, glosses over the fact that the case involves persons arrested for minor -sometimes even non-jailable offenses. People for whom there is no reasonable suspicion to believe have engaged in anything but the most minor of criminal activity. (Sadly, the Court in earlier cases has upheld the authority of police to arrest and lodge people in jail for what are in fact non-jailable offenses in the first place.) In the majority's view the institutional "needs" of the jailers to prevent what can only be characterized as the exceedingly rare example, are sufficient to override the U.S. Constitution.

As the dissent aptly points out, the Fourth Amendment requires more than a blanket acceptance of the parade of horribles relied upon by the majority. In the majority's view, the exceptions (i.e. the mass murder arrested for speeding) justify the abrogation of the Constitutional rights of everyone. The Fourth Amendment requires a more directed and particular analysis, however. It requires that all such physical searches of a person be reasonable.These are, after all, people who have not yet been convicted of any crime.

This is neither an abstract or difficult concept. As Justice Breyer remarked, such a physically invasive and humiliating search of individuals who have been arrested for minor offenses not involving drugs or violence - "say a traffic offense, a regulatory offense, an essentially civil matter, or any other such misdemeanor" is constitutionally "unreasonable" unless the jail authorities have a reasonable suspicion that the particular arrestee possesses some form of contraband or poses a hazard to the other inmates or guards.

The Court's majority doesn't even call it a "strip search" but rather refers to the humiliating and degrading process of being stripped, showered with chemical delousing agents, told to squat and expose one's genitals, as a "close visual inspection." Perhaps they would feel differently if they were subject to such "close visual inspection" for failing to pay a traffic fine.

Search and seizure laws in federal and state court are undergoing rapid changes. If you have been arrested, even for a minor offense, we recommend you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.


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