Thursday, April 5, 2012

Supreme Opinion (Acoustic)

Florence and  the Machine

JUSTICE KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court,

April 2, 2012
This case presents the question of what the Constitution imposes on searches of arrested persons.
The term jail is used here in a broad sense to include prisons.
Albert Florence was arrested during a traffic stop by a New Jersey state trooper who checked a statewide computer database which was incorrect
and found a bench warrant issued for Albert's  arrest.
The fine had been paid.
The officer  was shown the fine receipt.
Florence was taken from his wife and four year old son,
jailed for six days.and  released once it was determined  the fine had been paid.
Jail procedures required a shower with a delousing agent.
All persons passed through a metal detector to a group holding cell.
When they left the holding cell, they were ordered  to remove their clothing.
Apparently without touching the detainees, an officer looked at their ears,nose, mouth,
hair, scalp, fingers, hands, arms, armpits,
and other body openings.

This policy applied regardless of the circumstances.

The opinions in earlier  cases of this Court refer to a “strip search.” The term is imprecise.
It may mean a visual in­spection
from a closer, more uncomfortable distance;
it may mean shaking their heads or
running their hands through their hair
or raising arms,
displaying foot insteps,
exposing the back of the ears,
moving or spreading the buttocks
or genitals
or coughing in a squatting position.

The difficulties of operating a detention center must not be underestimated.
Maintaining safety and order re­quires officials to devise solutions.
The Court has confirmed deference to officials.
Impinging on consti­tutional rights must be upheld
if related to penological interests.

In New York City officers searched visitors before  the visiting room and inmates were under constant surveillance during the visit.
There had been but one instance in which an inmate attempted to sneak con­traband into the facility.
The Court deferred to officials that the inspections served not only to discover but also to deter.

There is no mechanical way to determine whether intru­sions on  privacy are reasonable.
The Los Angeles County Jail could ban all contact visits:
“They open the institution to the introduction of drugs, weapons, and other contraband.
Visitors can easily conceal guns, knives or drugs
And these items can readily be slipped from an innocent child.

It would be a difficult task to identify inmates who have propensities for violence, escape, or drug smuggling.
Even made more difficult by the brevity of detention and the constantly changing  population.
Maintaining institutional security and preserving internal order and discipline are essential goals
that may require retraction of constitutional rights.
Whether a policy is related to  security inter­ests is peculiarly within the expertise of officials.
This Court has repeated the admonition that without substantial evidence that officials have exaggerated their
response, courts should  defer.

The perhaps more fundamental ques­tion is who may be deprived of liberty and taken to jail in the first place.

A woman was ar­rested after an officer noticed neither she nor her children were wearing their seatbelts.
She ar­gued the Fourth Amendment prohibited her arrest when it could not result in jail time and there was no compelling need.
The Court held that a restriction on this power would put officers in an almost impossible spot.
The Court stated that balance is not well served
by standards requiring sensitive,
case by ­case determinations,
lest every judgment be an occasion for constitutional review.

The admission of inmates creates  risks for staff, the detainees.
The danger of intro­ducing lice or contagious infections, for example.
Lighters and matches are fire and arson risks or po­tential weapons.
Cell phones are used to orchestrate violence and criminality.
Pills and medications enhance suicide risks.
Chewing gum can block locking devices;
hair­pins can open handcuffs;
wigs can conceal drugs and weapons.
Something as simple as an overlooked pen can pose danger.

Jails are often crowded, unsanitary, and dangerous places.
Officials must be allowed to conduct a search and at least some detainees must lift their
genitals or cough in a squatting position.

These procedures are designed
to uncover what can go undetected
by a patdown or metal detector.

People detained for minor offenses can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals.

Timothy McVeigh was stopped by a state trooper who noticed he was driving without a license plate.
Police stopped serial killer Joel Rifkin for the same reason.
One of the terrorists involved in the September 11 attacks was stopped and ticketed for speeding.

These uncertainties mean the same thorough search of everyone.
For example a man arrested had 2 dime bags of weed, 1 pack of rolling papers, 20 matches, and 5 sleeping pills taped
under his scrotum.
A person in Washington State managed to hide a lighter,tobacco and tattoo needles, in his rectal cavity.

Other classifications might prove to be unworkable or even give rise to charges of discrimination.
Most officers would not be well equipped to make any of these determinations during the intake.
The lower  court’s approach would be a case-by-case evaluation of the seriousness of particular crimes,
a task for which officers and courts are poorly equipped.
Officers could not be expected to draw lines on a moment’s notice,
and the risk of violating the Constitution would discourage them from arresting.
Officers have an interest in readily administrable rules.
The officials urge to reject any compli­cated constitutional scheme
requiring them to conduct less thorough inspections.
They offer significant reasons why the Constitu­tion must not prevent them.

It is so ordered.

Without a whimper.

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