Imagine driving along with your spouse. They are pulled over for speeding. You’re a bit annoyed as you’d recommended they slow down five miles back. A police officer approaches the car, runs the plates and determines you have an outstanding warrant due to an unpaid fine. You try to explain that you’ve paid the fine, but are arrested and taken into police custody anyway.
This is the exact scenario that lead to the false arrest of one man recently. The man was held for a week in two separate jails and while there, subjected to humiliating and degrading strip searches which he said man him “feel less than a man”.
Upon being released, the man filed a lawsuit which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court leading to a 5-to-4 decision that, , regardless of the offense, strip searches are permissible for every arrest. Dissenting justices evoked the Fourth Amendment which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures citing that strip searches are not necessary for individuals arrested for minor offenses.
While those Justices in favor of strip searches contended that even individuals arrested for seemingly minor offense can turn out to be dangerous criminals, those opposed cited examples where people arrested for driving with a noisy muffler or failing to use a turn signal had been subjected to invasive strip searches.
In addition to the dissenting arguments including the Fourth Amendment and matters related to a general right to privacy, those Justices against strip searches also questioned the effectiveness of the searches in uncovering contraband. They contended that many contraband items detected by jail and prison workers could be detected using much less intrusive means.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on strip searches is troubling as it will likely encourage police and jail workers to increase their practices of carrying out humiliating and degrading strip searches. While safety is a concern for police and law enforcement officials, one has to wonder if there are ulterior motives at play. For example is a nun arrested during an anti-war protest really a danger or likely criminal? Sadly, police who arrested and subjected her to a strip search seemed to think so.