Supreme Court: Strip Searches Constitutional For Minor Offenses

The Supreme Court said in a new ruling that conducting strip searches for minor offenses is constitutional. This permits police officers to conduct strip searches as part of routine procedure. Texas residents could now conceivably experience this humiliating practice for something like being pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving.

The case involved a New Jersey man arrested for an unpaid fine, who claimed a violation of his rights after experiencing strip searches in two county jails. Unpaid fines are not crimes in New Jersey.

Many courts state that strip searches are unconstitutional for minor violations unless there is individualized suspicion. This ruling by the Supreme Court appears to allow strip searches with no suspicion at all. The majority reasoning focuses on the difficulty of operating a jail and states that strip searches are necessary in order to find things like drugs, weapons or lice, and keep them out of prisons.

Dissenting Justice Stephen Breyer notes that there are other options available to keep weapons out of prisons. Prisons use metal detectors, clothing searches, and frisking of inmates for detection of dangerous items.

Breyer also says that being required to fully strip and be stared at by strangers is "inherently humiliating and degrading."€ He states that strip searching a person for a minor violation is a severe violation of personal privacy. According to Breyer, a person should not be subject to a strip search unless there is reasonable suspicion by police officers that the person is concealing something.

He calls the government's power "disturbing" and cites ways that this power is used. Strip searches may now be conducted on people for minor infractions like a noisy muffler, not using a turn signal, or riding a bicycle without a bell.

Americans take privacy seriously, as demonstrated by reactions to the post 9/11 invasive airport screening procedures. A similar reaction may follow this new ruling.

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