Thread: SCOTAL Itch
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Old 04-02-2012, 09:03 PM
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Stephen Maturin Stephen Maturin is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2004
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Default Re: SCOTAL Itch

Dude gets pulled over for a traffic infraction in 2005. Cop runs an on-the-spot computer check and finds a bench warrant issued in 2003 in connection with dude's failure to show up for a hearing to enforce a fine levied on a criminal charge some seven years earlier. Dude had paid the fine shortly after the bench warrant issued, but the warrant remained in the state's computer system.

Dude spends six days in the Burlington County (N.J.) jail, after which he's transferred to the Essex County jail. The day after the transfer, dude was released when the authorities finally got it together enough to figure out that the computer entry showing an outstanding warrant was wrong.

At the first jail dude was "check[ed] . . . for scars, marks, gang tattoos, and contraband as [he] disrobed" and "instructed to open his mouth, lift his tongue, hold out his arms, turn around, and lift his genitals." At the second jail he was "instructed to remove [his] clothing while an officer looked for body markings, wounds, and contraband. Apparently without touching the detainees, an officer looked at [his] ears,nose, mouth, hair, scalp, fingers, hands, arms, armpits, and other body openings."

Dude filed a civil action against the government entities operating the jails per 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that jail officials violated his Fourth Amendment rights by subjecting him to unreasonable searches. The trial judge sided with the plaintiff, ruling that the searches were unreasonable as a matter of law. The court of appeals reversed.

Today, SCOTUS's Fab Five (Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas and Alito) sided with the government. Shorter Kennedy:
Well, you know, "strip search" is kind of a squishy term. I guess what happened to this guy might qualify, but hey, it's not like they shoved stuff up his ass or anything. Jeez.

And the ludicrously minor nature of the offense for which the plaintiff landed in jail just plain doesn't matter. Yeah, yeah, the Fourth Amendment is a big deal, and it's our job to say what the law is and all, but come on! Jail officials are the ones who know the security needs of their institution best, and those security interests are of paramount concern. If jail officials decide that intensive ... um ... visual inspection is needed to identify dangerous coloreds Messicans ganstas and druggies and thugs (oh my!), who are we to second-guess them?
Kennedy's majority opinion includes a brief section suggesting that the Court's announced rule might not apply in cases where a detainee in custody for a minor offense won't be wandering around in the general population or have significant contact with other detainees. In those instances, strip searches might indeed qualify as constitutionally unreasonable depending on the specific facts and circumstances. One of the justices in the majority wouldn't endorse even that trivial a limit on jailer discretion. Can you guess who?



Florence v. Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington (pdf, 41 pages).
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