NY attorney says battle over traffic-ticket strip searches not over yet

The Supreme Court struck down a complaint April 2 from a man subjected to invasive strip searches for an unpaid traffic fine.

But despite the setback from America’s highest judicial authority, his attorney said Wednesday that she may file a petition for a re-hearing. The battle, attorney Susan Chana Lask told The Daily Caller, is not over yet.

“This is about non-criminal offenders, and protecting their rights. It’s about the grandmother with the broken tail-light not getting pulled in and searched,” she said. “Even if it’s 10 percent, or just a thousand people a year, or 200 people — these people should not be treated inhumanely like that.”

“After this ruling, get ready to strip even if you have an unpaid traffic ticket,” Libertarian Party chairman Mark Hinkle said in a statement. “We are dismayed. This ruling sanctions new and unprecedented levels of invasion of privacy.”

“Never before did U.S. courts allow such an outrageous affront to human dignity with so little justification,” he added.

New Jersey State Troopers arrested Albert Florence for what their database showed was an unpaid fine in 2005. The police record turned out later to be erroneous, according to court documents.

Even though the warrant told police to take Florence to a magistrate, they took him to the Essex County Correctional Facility where they required two strip searches that included a “bend over, spread-your-cheeks, and cough” visual cavity inspection, and required him to manipulate his genitals, said Lask.

The Essex County officials responding to the case said in their brief that the police had little other choice.

“Newly admitted inmates do not have a legitimate expectation of privacy against strip searches or visual body-cavity searches upon entry into jail,” they wrote.

“ECCF is one of the most dangerous jails in New Jersey. Located in a large urban area with a high crime rate, ECCF tends to house more individuals charged with violent crimes or drug-related offenses than other county jails,” according to the brief.

Jailers already automatically strip-search felony offenders, said Lask. But she believes the law should require security personnel to treat other offenders according to evidence of reasonable suspicion. “They look at you, and if they see a bulge in your pocket, they pat you down.”

Monday’s Supreme Court decision specifically eliminated that requirement for evidence of reasonable suspicion, making any non-criminal offender eligible for a strip search, according to court documents.

Fingerprinting, computer profiling, pat-down searches, and multiple other security measures can occur before a strip search begins. Lask said she believes it makes sense to strip search inmates after contact visits.

“That’s more likely that someone can pass something to someone,” she said.

“But if you’re getting pulled in for a broken tail-light — this isn’t a crime, this is a debt collection — now they’re going to strip-search me because I forgot to pay my registration?”

According to Essex County officials, Florence’s original charge was fleeing police officers with a deadly weapon — a car.