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Strip Search after an Arrest

A person's constitutional rights don't end once police officers have placed them under arrest and taken them to jail. Because of the special concerns surrounding safety and security in jail facilities, however, corrections officers may intrude on a prisoner's rights more than is allowed in other circumstances as long as the intrusion is related to reasonable objectives.

In many cases, these intrusions involve strip searches and/or body cavity searches of arrestees. These types of inspections are highly invasive, but jails and prisons regularly carry them out in order to prevent smuggling of drugs, weapons or other contraband. These types of searches sometimes even occur when the arrestee has not been charged with a violent crime, and in the absence of factors that would give rise to a suspicion that the arrestee possessed concealed contraband.

For example, a person could find themselves arrested over a warrant for a traffic violation and subjected to a strip and/or body cavity search upon arrival at the jailhouse, even though nothing about their case would lead police to believe they had anything dangerous or prohibited on their person.

The Supreme Court recently ruled in Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington that the practice of conducting strip searches on all inmates, regardless of an individualized suspicion or the severity of the underlying offense, does not constitute an unreasonable search and does not violate the Fourth Amendment.  In a 5-4 decision split down ideological lines, the Court determined that penal institutions have an undeniable need to maintain safety and order within their facilities.  Any requirement that would force penal institutions to exclude individuals from searches when there was no specific reason to suspect that the individual was concealing contraband would undermine the institution's interest in protecting its staff and inmates, according to the Court.

As a result of this decision, jails and prisons can now strip search new inmates upon arrival at the facility as long as the search is related to the facility's need to maintain safety and order.  It is also possible for an individual to go through a strip search after an arrest even if the arrest warrant was issued in error, as was the case for the plaintiff in Florence.

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