The supposedly “conservative” leaning U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck a blow for intrusive government — physically intrusive — in its 5-4 ruling that makes it legal for officials to strip-search people arrested for any offense, however minor, before admitting them to jails, even if the officials have no reason to suspect the presence of contraband.
In Washington, a warrant is required for such a search, except for several exceptions, including: “There is a reasonable suspicion to believe that a strip search is necessary to discover weapons, criminal evidence, contraband, or other thing concealed on the body of the person to be searched, that constitutes a threat to the security of a holding, detention, or local correctional facility.”
If someone needs to be strip-searched before entering jail, it can be done. But apparently not freely enough for the court majority and the states that already embrace the strip search as a routine part of booking someone into jail.
The decision OKs a trend from appeals courts in Atlanta, San Francisco and Philadelphia, allowing strip-searches of everyone admitted to a jail’s general population, the New York Times reported.
This freedom has led to some outrageous abuses, examples of which were plentiful for the justices to consider.
According to lower courts, people may be strip-searched after arrests for violating a leash law, driving without a license and failing to pay child support.
In the dissent, Justice Stephen 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 a trespassing arrest during an antiwar demonstration.
Breyer correctly wrote that the strip-searches are “a serious affront to human dignity and to individual privacy” and should be used only when there was good reason to do so.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy responded that “people detained for minor offenses can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals.”
Kennedy said the 1995 Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, was first arrested for driving without a license plate. OK. And this has exactly what to do with strip searches?
Washington needs to stick to its statute, which provides the means for jail officials to conduct a strip search when needed, while it protects those arrested on minor charges from a major, and unnecessary, privacy invasion.