Don’t Get a Warrant in Essex County.

The Supreme Court has been tapped to decide if it’s OK to strip search someone who is in custody for a minor traffic offense. Source. Albert Florence had a warrant for an unpaid traffic ticket, which he eventually took care of, but in a “whoops, my bad” moment Essex County didn’t remove the discharged warrant from its computer system. So, when Mr. Florence was pulled over for a minor traffic violation in 2005, that system mistakenly told the arresting officer that Florence had an outstanding warrant.  Despite showing the arresting officer proof of the discharge, Mr. Florence was arrested and taken to jail where a standard intake search was performed (open mouth/lift tongue, lift nuts, squat and cough). A little later he was transferred to another jail where a search was again performed (which is standard anytime an inmate is moved between facilities.) After six days the mistake was realized and he was released. Mr. Florence is rightfully beyond pissed. But it’s for the wrong reasons and at the wrong people. Lemme splain.

He argues that both searches were unreasonable given the nature of his alleged offense and because he was arrested in error. He’s right in that he shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place, but wrong that the searches were unreasonable. Jailers have no way of knowing that the guy that just got brought merely has an outstanding warrant for unpaid parking tickets or is a serial killing drug dealing psycopath. I’m sure from the time he was arrested until he was released Mr. Florence was proclaiming his innocence and that the warrant should have been removed. The problem is that’s what everyone says. Cops and jailers are trained to ignore these protests because they aren’t the ones that determine guilt or innocence- that’s the courts’ job. A cop’s job is to arrest the person that the system tells her to and then to ensure a safe detention facility by disarming inmates­ and taking away any contraband they may have. Jailers have the responsibility to do a thorough visual inspection of inmates to see if they have anything that could be transferred to jailers and other inmates (lice, open wounds, etc.) that might have been missed during the fully-clothed screening.   Every single inmate.  Every single time.  And just so you know-contraband isn’t always just drugs or weapons.  It can also be communications from the outside like setting up a drug deal or ordering a hit on an officer or another inmate or worse.

The county screwed up big time, law enforcement was following protocol, and this poor dude got stuck in the middle. In this case, the jailers didn’t act unreasonably; Essex County did.  Not removing that warrant was catastrophically stupid and inexcusable.   But it sets a dangerous precedent to get rid of random cavity searches in jails because they are an absolute necessity for the safety of both the officers and the inmates.  The court should be called out big time for this because the heat is being improperly thrown at the jail.

8 Responses to Don’t Get a Warrant in Essex County.

  1. MikeZ says:

    I’m not sure I agree here. Why wouldn’t the Jailer know the offense? Certainly I agree he shouldn’t take the alleged criminal’s word for it that he is innocent or its only for a minor offense, but this data SHOULD be part of the data packet that is transported to the jail with him.

    Now, sure I can see part of standard procedure at a maximum security facility is a strip search, but I’m not sure unpaid parking tickets rise to this level of detail. He really shouldn’t be put in the same building as your “serial killing drug dealing psycopath”. That would potentially lead to an even bigger violation of the man’s rights. I’d like to see some real evidence showing how many people accused of not paying their parking tickets attempted to smuggle in contraband up their rectum prior to granting the state the automatic right to go fondling around up there.

    • Beth Hutchens says:

      I think that’s because there aren’t the resources to have separate jails based on charge. In a perfect world, yes, but that’s not what we have. It’s more like a cattle call and all are treated the same because the purpose is to prevent contraband and ensure safety. But again, the ire should be directed at the mistake of the court, not the jail, because it was the court who screwed it up. The jail was doing what it was supposed to, and I’m real sorry this poor guy was wrongfully arrested, but that wasn’t the fault of the jail.

      • MikeZ says:

        Frankly I don’t buy the resource issues. If they don’t have the resources to do their job properly then perhaps they shouldn’t be putting someone in jail for a traffic ticket. Seems like a poor excuse for just about any government misdeed, sortof an “ends justify the means” mentality that shouldn’t be tolerated.

        I don’t place any blame on the individual guard who performed the searches, but the policy of strip searching someone for a traffic ticket does seem over the top. I guess for that matter so does placing them in Jail (unless this was a repeated drunk driving ticket or something)

  2. Nick42 says:

    Justice Kennedy made your argument about not the jailers not knowing who the prisoners were in the oral argument.

    The plaintiff responded by pointing out that all NJ jails have access to state and national criminal records, that in this case the plaintiff’s records were pulled, and that the jailers completed a form saying there was no reasonable suspicion. The plaintiff further argues that their proposed rule would only apply when sufficient information is available.

    Additionally other jail system follow the plaintiff’s proposed rule and preform this enhanced level of search if the crime is a felony or there is other evidence to suggest it’s necessary. I think that the court has previously allowed arresting citizens on extremely minor charges should also be taken into consideration.

    • Beth Hutchens says:

      I think this goes back to resources. We all like to argue based on what should be, not what is. And you’re right, there is much that needs to be addressed, but the fact is that the jail in Essex County did what it was supposed to do according to the rules and procedures as determined by the state of NJ. The court system is the one who screwed it up.

      • Nick42 says:

        No additional resources are needed. There doesn’t need to be a separate jail for people arrested for parking tickets. The state just can’t examine someone’s anal cavity unless there’s a reasonable suspicion that they would smuggle something into the jail and being arrested for parking ticket’s ain’t it.

        I also don’t find the comment that the jail was just following the rules to be persuasive. The entire point of this law suit was that those rules were unreasonable. The courts have granted an extraordinary amount of latitude in cases involving officer safety.

        Officer safety have become the magic words to justify any action or abuse. If we’re to retain our liberty the courts must enforce our constitutional rights even when the state invokes them.

  3. andrews says:

    Assume that jail security is paramount; courts appear to have been routinely approving suspicionless strip searches of all who are arrested. We also know that you can be arrested for a non-jailable offense.

    From this it follows that the police may have anyone strip-searched without reason to believe an offense has been committed and without a warrent.

    Things found during the strip search are acceptable as evidence because the strip search is a purely administrative search.

    Thus, the fourth amendment fails entirely under modern jurisprudence.

  4. G Thompson says:

    I agree with you here Beth, the jailers have an absolute duty of care towards all inmates and other jailers and must follow protocols with no fear nor favour. They were only doing their jobs.

    My question is why in all that is due process did it take six(6) days for this error to be found? Here in Australia if someone is arrested under bench warrant (by a court) and therefore have no presumption of bail, they are then sent to the nearest goal under ‘remand’ and must be presented to a court (whether or not it is the issuing court is irrelevant) for a mention (and bail application) at that courts next sitting date which is normally within 24hrs and very rarely more than 72hrs (long weekend) where the prosecution, the courts and the defence would have the information that it was a wrongful issuance of the warrant and apologies would be given.

    For it to have taken six days is absolutely amazing, and if there was a court mention during this time then that just means this guy will eventually be also able to purchase a yacht to go along with his shiny new house .

    The court is fully to blame here, and whoever allowed the warrant to not be expunged from the system in first place.

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