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Justices approve strip-searches for any offense

— The Supreme Court on Monday ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense, however minor, before admitting them to jails even if the officials have no reason to suspect the presence of contraband.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, joined by the court’s conservative wing, wrote that courts are in no position to second-guess the judgments of correctional officials who must consider not only the possibility of smuggled weapons and drugs but also public health and information about gang affiliations.

About 13 million people are admitted each year to the nation’s jails, Justice Kennedy wrote.

Under Monday’s ruling, he wrote, "every detainee who will be admitted to the general population may be required to undergo a close visual inspection while undressed."

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing for the four dissenters, said strip-searches were “a serious affront to human dignity and to individual privacy” and should be used only when there was good reason to do so.

The decision endorses a more recent trend, from appeals courts in Atlanta, San Francisco and Philadelphia, in allowing searches no matter how minor the charge. Some potential examples cited by dissenting judges in the lower courts and by Justice Breyer on Monday included violating a leash law, driving without a license and failing to pay child support.