Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington

PETITIONER: Albert W. Florence
RESPONDENT: Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington, et al.
LOCATION: Burlington County Jail

DOCKET NO.: 10-945
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 566 US (2012)
GRANTED: Apr 04, 2011
ARGUED: Oct 12, 2011
DECIDED: Apr 02, 2012

ADVOCATES:
Carter G. Phillips - for the respondents
Nicole A. Saharsky - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the respondents
Thomas C. Goldstein - for the petitioner

Facts of the case

Albert Florence was searched twice in seven days after he was arrested on a warrant for a traffic violation he had already paid. Florence filed a lawsuit against officials at the two jails, contending the jailhouse searches were unreasonable because he was being held for failure to pay a fine, which is not a crime in New Jersey.

U.S. District Court Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez ruled that the strip search of Florence violated the Constitution. However, officials representing both Burlington and Essex Counties appealed the decision. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed, holding that it is reasonable to search everyone being jailed, even without suspicion that a person may be concealing a weapon or drugs.

Question

Does the Fourth Amendment permit a jail to conduct a suspicion-less strip search whenever an individual is arrested, including for minor offenses?

Media for Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 12, 2011 in Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 02, 2012 in Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Kennedy has our opinion this morning in Case 10-945, Florence versus The Board of Chosen Freeholders.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

In this Case, the Court considers the extent to which the Constitution imposes restrictions on jail officials who search incoming detainees.

The petitioner is Albert Florence and he presses claims for himself and a larger class.

In 1998, Florence was arrested after attempting to flee from police officers.

He pled guilty to two offenses and was sentenced by a New Jersey state court to pay a fine in installments.

When he fell behind on his payments and failed to appear, a judge issued a warrant for his arrest.

Florence then paid the balance but the warrant remained in a state-wide computer database.

Some seven years later, the events that give rise to this case occurred.

Florence and his wife were stopped in their car by a New Jersey state trooper.

Based on the outstanding warrant, Florence was arrested and taken to the Burlington County Detention Center.

He was held there for six days and then transferred to the Essex County Correctional Center.

He was released a day later after the charges were dropped.

At the outset of his detention in each of the two facilities, Florence was subjected to a thorough -- thorough search, sometimes called a strip search.

The searches did not involve any touching or probing of the unclothed detainee, yet the two searches were thorough and no doubt intrusive.

At the Burlington Facility, jail policy required every arrestee to shower with a delousing soap.

Officers would check for scars, gang tattoos and contraband as the arrestee or detainee disrobed.

Florence claims he was also instructed to open his mouth, lift his tongue, hold out his arms, turn around and lift his genitals.

After being transferred to the Essex Facility, he was subject to a second similar search and the details are set out in the opinion.

Florence alleges that during this second search, he was required to lift his genitals, turn around and cough in a squatting position.

Florence brought a Section 1983 suit for violations of his Fourteenth and Fourth Amendment rights alleging an awful search.

He maintained that persons arrested for a minor offense cannot be required to remove their clothing and submit to a close visual inspection as a routine part of the intake process.

Rather he contends officials make -- conduct this kind of search only if they have reason to suspect a particular inmate of concealing a weapon or drugs or concealing other contraband.

The District Court agreed.

The United States Court Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed.

It held that a search -- that the search procedures at issue struck a reasonable balance between inmate privacy and the needs of the two jails.

This Court now affirms the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

The difficulties of operating a detention center must not be under estimated by the courts.

Jail officials have a responsibility to ensure the security of their facilities when detainees are admitted.

This is not an easy task. Jails admit 13 million inmates a year.

Now, the largest facilities process hundreds of people everyday, even smaller jails can be crowded on weekend nights or after a large police operation.