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.