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

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: October 12, 2011
Case #: 10-945
United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
Full Text Opinion: http://www.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/093603p.pdf

Criminal Procedure: (Whether the Fourth Amendment permits a jail to conduct a strip search of individual's arrested for civil contempt.)

Petitioner was arrested on warrant for civil contempt for failure to pay a fine. While awaiting trial, Petitioner was repeatedly required to strip naked for the purpose of visual observation to ensure that he was not bringing contraband into the correctional facility.  Petitioner filed a lawsuit alleging that respondents violated the Fourth Amendment by subjecting him to strip searches without suspicion.  The district court found for Petitioner.  The Third Circuit reversed, holding that the strip searches were permissible under the Fourth Amendment.

Petitioner argues that strip searches of arrestees are subject to the Fourth Amendment's requirement of reasonableness.  Petitioner focuses on case history to argue that a balancing test between societal interests in penal security and prisoner privacy is required in order to decide if a strip search is reasonable.  Since Petitioner was arrested for a minor offense and a strip search is a significant intrusion on privacy, he argues that the intrusion must be justified by some form of suspicion, rather than a "blanket" policy of strip searching all arrestees.  Additionally, Petitioner argues that the intrusion on personal privacy from a suspicionless strip search is not outweighed by the interest of reducing contraband brought into jails.  Finally, Petitioner argues that the reliance of the Third Circuit on Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520 (1979), was mistaken.