The plaintiff in this case was arrested erroneously on a warrant for failure to pay for a traffic violation; in fact, he had already paid. He was then booked into jail, and strip searched. He brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, seeking relief under 42 ...
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The plaintiff in this case was arrested erroneously on a warrant for failure to pay for a traffic violation; in fact, he had already paid. He was then booked into jail, and strip searched. He brought suit in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. §1983 for violations of his Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches. He maintained that persons arrested for a minor offense could not be required to remove their clothing and expose their genitals to close visual inspection as a routine part of the intake process. Rather, he contended--as had been held by most of the federal Courts of Appeals--officials could conduct this kind of search only if they had reason to suspect a particular jail prisoner of concealing a weapon, drugs, or other contraband.
The District Court certified a class of individuals who were charged with a nonindictable offense under New Jersey law, processed at either the Burlington County or Essex County jail, and directed to strip naked even though an officer had not articulated any reasonable suspicion they were concealing contraband. After discovery, in February 2009, the court granted petitioner’s motion for summary judgment on the unlawful search claim. It concluded that any policy of strip searching nonindictable offenders without reasonable suspicion violated the Fourth Amendment. 595 F.Supp.2d 492 (D. N.J. 2009) (Judge Joseph Rodriguez); the district court certified the issue to the 3d Circuit for immediate review. 657 F.Supp.2d 504 (D. N.J. 2009).
A divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed, holding in an opinion by Circuit Judge Thomas Hardiman that the procedures described by the District Court struck a reasonable balance between inmate privacy and the security needs of the two jails. 621 F.3d 296 (2010).
The federal Courts of Appeals had split on the question whether the Fourth Amendment allowed what are usually referred to as "blanket" strip search policies, in which no individualized suspicion need exist to justify a strip search of an arrestee. In a 5-4 opinion, with the majority by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court took the position that--at least if a prisoner was about to be housed in a jail's general population--no such individualized suspicion is required, no matter how minor the arrest offense. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the Third Circuit opinion.
Back at the District Court, Judge Rodriguez had stayed further activity in the case pending first the appeal and then Supreme Court review. It remains to be seen (as of the date of this summary) if any aspect of the case will continue. - 05/03/2012