Supreme Court Rules Jailers Correct in Strip-Searching Anti-War Nun
Wednesday, April 04, 2012
Sister Bernie Galvin (photo: Robert B. Livingston, flickr)
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 this week that anyone being held in jail can be subject to strip searches, no matter how minor the offense or who the arrestee is. That applies to even someone like Sister Bernie Galvin, a Catholic nun and resident of San Francisco. Arrested in November 2003 at an anti-war demonstration and charged with trespassing and interfering with a police officer, Galvin was forced to take off all of her clothes and ordered to undergo a strip search. The nun at first refused, telling jailers the search was unnecessary and an assault on her dignity. When it became clear that she would remain detained indefinitely unless she submitted, Galvin reluctantly agreed to the strip and visual body cavity search.
Justice Stephen Breyer, in his dissent, pointed out that people have been strip-searched after being “detained for such infractions as driving with a noisy muffler, driving with an inoperable headlight, failing to use a turn signal, or riding a bicycle without an audible bell.”
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy argued that even “people detained for minor offenses can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals.”
The case that prompted the Supreme Court ruling was that of Albert Florence, who was in the passenger seat when his wife was stopped for speeding in New Jersey in March 2005. Officers claimed that there was a warrant for Florence because of an unpaid fine. In fact the fine had been paid and, in the words of Florence’s brief in the Supreme Court case, “Petitioner kept with him a copy of the official document certifying that fact, because in his view he had been previously been detained as an African American who drove nice cars and he wanted to avoid being wrongly arrested.” Nonetheless, he was hauled off to two different jails and strip-searched in both.
-David Wallechinsky, Noel Brinkerhoff
To Learn More:
Justices Approve Blanket Jailhouse Search Policies (by Barbara Leonard, Courthouse News Service)
Supreme Court Ruling Allows Strip-Searches for Any Arrest (by Adam Liptak, New York Times)
Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington et al (U.S. Supreme Court)
Albert W. Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington: Brief for Sister Bernie Galvin (U.S. Supreme Court) (pdf)
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