Embarrassing the Future?

By Najah Farley

On Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Florence v. Board of Freeholders that all individuals arrested and held in a correctional facility or jail could be subjected to a routine strip search as long as it only involves a visual inspection. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the controlling opinion, basing his reasoning largely on the balance between inmate privacy and the needs of institutions. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a short concurrence, where he reiterated that there could possibly be exceptions drawn to the rule pronounced in this case. He then states that it is wise for the Court “to leave open the possibility of exceptions, to ensure that we ‘not embarrass the future.’”

Among the recent commentary, various bloggers and legal analysts have called the opinion alarming, due to the broad scope of the rule. As pointed out in Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissent, now, even for minor offenses, such as a traffic offense or misdemeanors, arrestees can be subjected to extremely invasive searches, to satisfy the needs of correctional institutions. However, Chief Justice Roberts may have, unknowingly, foretold the future. By creating such a bright-line rule, without exceptions, the Supreme Court of the United States has given correctional institutions more power, power that will be used on everyday citizens, who have simply forgotten to pay a traffic ticket or had a broken tail light. Any citizen, upon being arrested and entering the criminal justice system, enters an alternate universe, where many of the rights that we all depend upon are no longer available. As more and more citizens experience the realities of strip searches and in some cases, the full weight of the correctional system, perhaps more citizens will be willing to speak up about the intrusion on privacy rights and the need for greater emphasis on civil liberties in everyday life. It is an important commentary on the state of our criminal justice system when the Supreme Court of the United States accords such power to correctional institutions without exception.

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