Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument on a case which could affect the liability and operations of local jails across the country.  In Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington, the Supreme Court is considering whether the Fourth Amendment permits strip searches of individuals incarcerated for minor criminal offenses, in the absence of reason to suspect that the inmate has hidden weapons or contraband.  Past federal court opinions have suggested that the Fourth Amendment required individualized suspicion before undertaking such an invasive search.  But in New Jersey, the Burlington County Jail conducts strip searches of detainees upon admission as a matter of policy and without any individualized suspicion of a threat to the safety or security of the facility.  The County argues that policy is necessary to ensure the security of the facility, and that this interest outweighs any privacy concerns of individual detainees. 

The Court’s decision in Florence could affect the operations at local jails nationwide and in Kentucky.  For example, the Kentucky Jail Standards applicable to local jails currently do not permit strip searches of inmates in the absence of an individualized and reasonable suspicion that the inmate poses a security or safety risk.  If the policy at issue in Florence is upheld, policy makers could amend these regulations to grant jail staff broader authority to search detainees.

You can obtain more information about the Florence proceedings before the Supreme Court here.

By Claire E. Parsons