Stripped of dignity with court-authorized strip searches

Jail Last Wednesday, BORDC's Executive Director Shahid Buttar was interviewed on the program Let's Talk About It, regarding the recent Supreme Court decision on the case Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders. The lawsuit was brought by Albert Florence, a finance director for a car dealership, who was strip searched—twice—after being arrested for a false warrant.

In 2005, Florence and his wife and child were on their way to a family dinner when a New Jersey State Trooper pulled them over. Florence's wife had been driving, and Florence proceeded to explain to the trooper that he was the owner of the vehicle. In checking Florence's record, the trooper found an arrest warrant for an unpaid fine.  Florence was arrested on the spot for a fine that had, in fact, been paid years earlier and a non-existent warrant. When he arrived at the county jail, Florence was strip searched—and then strip searched again six days later when he was transferred to a second facility. The following day, all charges were dropped.

After a seven year battle, the Supreme Court finally decided Florence's case, ruling that "people arrested over traffic and other minor offenses can be strip-searched even if there is no reasonable suspicion that they are concealing weapons or contraband."

In his interview with Let's Talk About It, Buttar spoke of the Justices' disconnectedness with the facts of American life on the ground:

I think this case is the latest demonstration that the Supreme court, and for that matter, Congress of the Obama administration, are just completely out of touch with reality and what it means to be an American on the ground...Supreme Court Justices don't get subjected to this stuff...This is a classic case of profiling leading someone into the criminal justice system.

The consequences of such a ruling extend beyond violations of basic civil liberties of arrestees—let alone wrongfully arrested suspects, in the case of Florence. The ruling affords law enforcement and jail officials a new level of discretion and, ultimately, power in their procedures and dealings with prisoners.

Further, as Buttar points out, in the case of Florence, "The guy's racially profiled, one; subjected to an arrest for an erroneous warrant, two; and then subjected to a strip search, three, that ultimately ends up being decided by the court to be legitimate...I think its a reflection of a pattern that we see from the Roberts [court]."

He later adds of the strip searches:

The indignity of it and the purpose to demean people absolutely came out in the case and yet, still, in spite of that, the Justices, in their grand ignorance, decided that that's okay...You see an intentional ignorance and a willful disregard for these issues by the Justices.  And again, i just think it reflects the fact that they lead very privileged lives and don't have any idea what life is like on the ground.

Susan Chana Lask, Florence's lawyer in the suit, also contributed to the interview on Let's Talk About It, expressing frustration at the fact that Justice Kennedy, in his decision, cited the case of Timothy McVeigh and events of 9/11 as proof that "people detained for minor offenses can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals."  In the end, as Lask points out in the interview, "This case wasn't about terrorism. They created the fear factor for us."

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