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Supreme Court Wrestles With Strip Searches

Publication Date: 
October 12, 2011
The Wall Street Journal
Jess Bravin

Lecturer Thomas C. Goldstein is mentioned in the following Wall Street Journal article by Jess Bravin about the Supreme Court case that will determine the constitutionality of strip searches for minor offenses.

The Supreme Court struggled during arguments Wednesday for a clear way to tell when jailhouse strip searches go too far.

Albert Florence was arrested for failing to pay a fine for a minor violation. In fact, he had paid the fine, but when a state trooper checked his name during a traffic stop, the police computer erroneously spat out an arrest warrant.


"We are here today…because both the Burlington Jail and the Essex County Jail require every arrestee to stand two feet in front of a correctional officer and strip naked," Mr. Florence's attorney, Tom Goldstein, said.

The New Jersey jails had a blanket policy of strip searching all prisoners upon arrival, regardless of the reason for arrest. Mr. Goldstein said invasive procedures against people suspected of minor offenses such as an unpaid traffic ticket couldn't be justified unless authorities had a "reasonable suspicion" the person was hiding contraband.


Mr. Goldstein said the New Jersey jails had harsher strip-search procedures than many other correctional agencies, including the federal Bureau of Prisons. Statistical evidence, he said, shows few people arrested on minor charges arrive at jail with contraband hidden in body cavities. Rules requiring body searches for all suspected felons or drug offenders might be permissible even without individual suspicion, Mr. Goldstein said.