Supreme Court to Decide Whether Prisoner’s Have Right to Privacy By Teresa Cajot On Wednesday, members of the US Supreme Court were asked to determine what privacy rights an individual maintains or possesses when in jail. The question stems from a case involving Albert Florence, who was detained in 2005 for allegedly failing to pay a fine. During his time in custody, Florence claims that he was subjected to two invasive strip searches, despite the fact that jailers had no reason to suspect that he was hiding drugs or a weapon.
The high court must now decide whether such searches violate Fourth Amendment privacy rights. Florence was not subjected to the most invasive search, which involves physically checking body cavities for contraband, but he argues that jailers did not have the right to ask him to remove his clothing at all. “This is a very significant intrusion on individual privacy and individual dignity,” said Florence’s attorney, Thomas Goldstein. According to Goldstein, detainees like Florence, who have been accused of minor offenses, should not be searched unless jailers have reason to believe that there is a safety issue at hand. However, Carter Phillips, who is representing the jails, insists that searches are necessary to maintain safety within the jails. “What I would really like is an opinion that recognizes that deference to the prison and their judgment in what’s appropriate under these circumstances,” said Phillips. Justice Anthony Kennedy seemed to agree, suggesting that Florence and other detainees “might well prefer an institution where everyone has been searched before he or she is put into the population”.
The case, Florence vs. Board of Chosen Freeholders, 10-945, originated when a New Jersey state trooper pulled Florence’s BMW sport utility vehicle over on March 3, 2005. Florence’s wife was driving the vehicle but Florence identified himself as the owner of the vehicle. In checking the records, the state trooper pulled up an outstanding warrant and arrested Florence, despite the fact that Florence had already cleared the fine and carried a court document in his car as proof. Florence was held for six days, during which time he was strip searched once, before being transferred to Essex County Jail. While at Essex County Jail, he was strip searched prior to being released by a judge. In response to the ordeal, Florence filed a lawsuit against the two jails and a federal judge ruled in favor of Florence. However, the Third US Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision. Florence has further argued that he should have been given a timely hearing, rather than being confined for six days prior to his transfer and subsequent appearance before a judge. This issue is on hold in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s ruling, which is expected early in the summer of 2012.
On Wednesday, members of the US Supreme Court were asked to determine what privacy rights an individual maintains or possesses when in jail.