In yet another blow to the Constitution, the Supreme Court today announced an opinion on strict party lines (the five justices generally identified as conservatives including openly conservative justices Scalia, Thomas and Roberts forming the majority necessary to issue the opinion) that the police may strip search anyone they arrest, even for minor violations. The case — Florence v. Burlington — involved an African American man who was wrongfully arrested on an false warrant that claimed he had failed to pay a fine. The Court’s full opinion can be found here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-945.pdf. He had in fact paid the fine years earlier and he had done nothing else to justify his arrest. The warrant came up during a routine traffic stop when the police ran his name in its Big Brother data base. Surely the fact that he was a black man driving a shiny red BMW had nothing to do with the stop or what the officer did next. Despite being innocent of any crime (the police database was mistaken), the man was dragged away in handcuffs in front of his pregnant wife. Police officers later strip searched the innocent citizen during the course of booking him into the jail on the mistaken charges. Here was a man who was 1) innocent, and 2) who was not even charged with committing a violent offense, yet the police strip searched him due to a subjective concern that he may be hiding weapons in a body cavity. The conservative Justices on the Supreme Court today said that’s just fine, and that your Constitutional rights as a citizen go out the window when the police arrest you even when you have done absolutely nothing wrong and even when you have done absolutely nothing to justify suspicion of violence. Justice Breyer — traditionally considered one of the Courts left-leaning members — issued a lengthy dissent to the majority opinion, which was authored by conservative Justice Kennedy. Justice Breyer wrote: “I cannot find justification for the strip search policy at issue here—a policy that wouldsubject those arrested for minor offenses to serious invasions of their personal privacy. I consequently dissent.”
Ewusiak & Roberts are Tampa Bay lawyers who represent victims of civil rights abuses throughout Florida. The Florence case will make our jobs even tougher, but we do not shy away from taking on the system to uphold the rights of all of us as citizens and to seek compensation for wrongs committed against innocent individuals.
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