Supreme Court Makes It Even Worse To Be A Cannabis Consumer Under Prohibition

Supreme Court Authorizes Strip Searches for Any Criminal Offense

By Kellen Russoniello, George Washington University Law School and  NORML legal intern

If you are sent to jail, be prepared to get naked, squat, and cough.

In Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders, a 5-4 decision drawn on party lines released on April 2, the Supreme Court upheld the practice of forcing detainees who would be entering the general jail population to undergo strip searches. The Court noted that they “must defer to the judgment of correctional officials unless the record contains substantial evidence showing their policies are an unnecessary or un-justified response to problems of jail security.” Despite the dissent’s assertions that the massive affront to human dignity that strip searches cause is not outweighed by the scant evidence that these procedures actually produce discovery of more contraband, the Court ruled that jails can force detainees to undergo an extremely close inspection while unclothed.

The rationale for the decision is that corrections officers should have deference to deal with the serious problems faced by admitted new people to the general jail population. These dangers include: introducing contagious diseases or lice; the possibility that the detainee may have open wounds; the fact that a detainee may have gang tattoos, which could lead to violence within the jail; or the chance that the person may be carrying contraband (weapons or drugs) in places that are not visible from a general visual search. Additionally, jails are often more dangerous than prisons because little is known about the admitted offender.

As if the breadth of the ruling was not striking enough, the case becomes more shocking when the facts are recounted. The case arose from the 2005 arrest of Albert Florence, a middle-aged African-American man. When Florence’s wife was pulled over for speeding, a records search revealed that Florence, who was in the passenger’s seat, had an outstanding warrant for failure to appear at an enforcement hearing as a result of unpaid fines from two years prior. In fact, the fine had been paid a few days after the issuance of the warrant, but the warrant was never taking off the system.

Additionally, anticipating potential confusion and/or conflict with police during any future traffic stop or like encounter, Florence presented photocopies to arresting police of the paid receipts. To no avail, he was arrested on the spot.

Florence was held for six days in Burlington County jail and then transferred to Essex County jail where he was held for an additional day. At each facility, detention officers forced Florence to strip naked while they examined him for tattoos, scars, and contraband. In the second jail, Florence had to lift his genitals, turnaround, squat, and then cough. After his release, Florence sued the government under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Rights.

This ruling built on precedent set in Bell v. Wolfish, which held that prisoners detained in any correctional facility run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons could be forced to undergo a strip search after every contact visit with a person from outside the facility. Additionally, the Court cites favorably the decision of Atwater v. City of Lago Vista, which held that a person can be arrested and held in detention no matter how minor the criminal offense is (in that case, a woman was arrested for not wearing her seatbelt). Taken together, this means that a person can be detained for any criminal offense, and therefore forced to undergo a strip search for any criminal offense.

Justice Breyer in dissent points out the absurdity of this approach. Under this ruling, minor offenses such as driving with a noisy muffler, failing to use a turn signal, riding a bicycle without an audible bell, or walking your dog without a leash, could subject the arrestee to a strip search.

Breyer also notes that other procedures used by jails, including the jails in which Florence was detained, have not shown to be any less effective in finding contraband, gang tattoos, or removing lice than the strip search procedure. For example, both jails performed pat-down searches, made detainees go through metal detectors, made inmates shower with de-lousing shampoo, and searched the inmate’s clothing.

Furthermore, a New York Times article summarizes the trend that states have taken so far regarding strip searches for newly admitted persons to jails:

The procedures endorsed by the majority are forbidden by statute in at least 10 states and are at odds with the policies of federal authorities. According to a supporting brief filed by the American Bar Association, international human rights treaties also ban the procedures . . . . Monday’s decision endorsed a recent trend, from appeals courts in Atlanta, San Francisco and Philadelphia, allowing strip-searches of everyone admitted to a jail’s general population. At least seven other appeals courts, on the other hand, had ruled that such searches were proper only if there was a reasonable suspicion that the arrested person had contraband.

Although Justice Breyer argues that people who commit minor offenses should not be subject to strip searches unless there is reasonable suspicion to believe that they possess drugs or other contraband, he agrees that all people detained for drug offenses can be forced to undergo one.  As you may know, there were over 850,000 arrests made in 2010 for marijuana offenses alone. Although not all of these result in jail time, a significant proportion does, meaning that non-violent marijuana users could be subjected to strip searches. Even in states that have decriminalized to a certain extent, people could still be sent to jail while it is determined whether or not charges will be brought against them. The Court specifically pointed to this possibility in both this ruling and the Atwater case.

As Justice Kennedy points out in his majority opinion, 13 million people are jailed annually.  This means that 4% of Americans could be subject to these humiliating procedures under this ruling every year. Pointedly, for cannabis consumers and patients, with 850,000 cannabis-related arrests annually in America–90% for possession only–many hundreds of thousands can now be readily exposed to multiple strip searches emanating from a single encounter with law enforcement that begin over an adult possessing no more than a single joint.

Perhaps it is time to try and stop people, instead of contraband, from entering jails.

45 thoughts

  1. Somebody is paying these Supreme Court judges an awful lot of money to come up with this shit.

  2. Are we victims of the enemy or are we the enemy of the victims? who are we really at war with and for what? it makes sense if you don’t think about it.

  3. Dont do the time if you cant to the time…No dont do it.
    Dont go to bed with a price on your head…No dont do it.
    Got no problem with this law.

  4. Instead of calling it the SUPREME COURT, lets call it the NEW WORLD ORDER COURT. Our CONSTITUTION is going BANANA REPUBLIC with FEDERALISM calling the shots. AMERICANIA is forming on the edge of the horizon of the ORWELLIAN MENTALITY STATE.

  5. The government continues its war on the American people, and agree with the pervert analogy. Pat downs and body scans to get on planes, strip searches, any excuse to see people naked.

  6. I think its a sad state, when we give up our human rights for nothing. There’s all this great hoopla over democracy, yet no one realizes that we are still living under tyranny.

  7. In that situation, I would drop a turd and
    say “Oops! Sorry, I lost control.” At the very least I’d fart. Of course there are some risks with that. One of which is a guard taking the video recording away for “private viewing”.

    Such a job must dehumanise the workers and who knows that could be the cracking point in what they’re prepared to do. But the U$A has brought us Abu Ghraib and other abominations.

  8. Over 3/4M arrests each year for possession? That is so ridiculous in this country, in this day, when we ought to be concerned about violent offenders and less on peaceful taxpaying consumers. Marijuana laws need to be severely changed and eliminated.

  9. “Nothing frightens power like knowledge”. Federal “authority” is rooted in the Bush doctrine. Domestic surveillance, armed rones and the invasion of personal privacy and the removal of all systems of recourse is what our “founding fathers” envisioned when splitting from the King,-No?
    Today, the king and his thigs are called POLITICIANS- a group of Men, (largely White, always wealthy) making rules for “the rest of us”.
    If this does not infuriate you-then keep watching “foxnews”-for your info.
    And pray to your maker you don’t get pulled over while being Black

  10. United Police States of America.

    This is what happens when you allow a lie to go unchallanged.

  11. The supreme court is a complete joke. The American people know it as well as the entire world, they laugh at the backwards bunch of lying criminals we have in our so-called government.
    The so-called justices are nothing more than a group of corporate paid-off organized criminals.

  12. Title of this article should have been “Supreme Court makes it even worse to leave your house.”

    Our Founder’s have got to be turning in their graves and I can hear Jefferson saying, “Told you.”

  13. I agree with the supreme court on this one. Having been arrested and striped searched myself I agree with you guys it was embarrassing no doubt. But I sure was glad that when they put that other man in to the cell with me that they had searched him. Not like I could take him barehanded.

  14. This is why Cannabis will not be made legal on the federal level. This is why they are ignoring state laws. The government loves institutions, and any reason they can find to institutionalize the people, they will use it. Their goal for the New World Order is for all citizens to be born and raised in a prison.
    It’s even illegal to be homeless….they’ve got homes waiting for us.

  15. Yeah well, this not really supreme at all court also feels American society doesn’t believing in putting a child rapest who then murders his victims to death. Really? I can’t think of better people to put to death than perverted child murders.

    Do you have to be an out of touch weirdo to become a government official? Is there a test to make sure normal people are kept away?

  16. So Human Rights Watch

    “Please, do not make us suffer any more…”
    Access to Pain Treatment as a Human Right
    March 3, 2009

    “In this 47-page report Human Rights Watch said that countries could significantly improve access to pain medications by addressing the causes of their poor availability. These often include the failure to put in place functioning supply and distribution systems; absence of government policies to ensure their availability; insufficient instruction for healthcare workers; excessively strict drug-control regulations; and fear of legal sanctions among healthcare workers.”

    So there’s one human rights violation continually and institutionally enforced by the federal government during the 40 year failed drug war and even longer cannabis prohibition.

    But then to claim contraband could be transported in one’s body cavities, and so requires a strip search and rectal search, is insult to injury, another violation of human rights. Using this reason as a justification to conduct routine cavity searches on new jail entrants, even for people accused of minor crimes–or non-crimes like possessing dried flowers–is a good example of how prohibition is inherently destructive.

    Being an unjust law, prohibition is damaging to people and the drug war destruction spreads like a mold, both in a personal sense and in a societal and cultural sense.

    Because poor policy is an actual source of problems (not solutions), e.g., prohibition directly creates organized crime (a problem), on the streets as well as the white-collar related crimes (e.g., kickbacks and special interest bribes to maintain prohibition).

    Then in turn, billion dollar agencies are created and funded to chase down the newly-made “criminals” in a cat an mouse game. Nevertheless they ignore the white-collar variety of organized crime (drug money laundering, political misconduct, violating anti-trust laws, intellectual dishonesty by legislators, and so on). Probably because these are actually *necessary* to maintain an obviously failed and damaging policy based on lies and contradictions.

    And yet it is common knowledge that it is a failed drug war (the descriptor *failed* is now inextricably bound to “drug war.” Failed drug war. People around the world refer to it that way, according to NPR, even though the phrase is redundant. “The failed 40-year drug war” is how foreign heads of state now refer to America’s rabid-like tail chasing.

    Bureacracy growing, resource wasting, inmate generating, terrorizing the citizenry, denying medicine to the ill, and so much more, it can be summed up most simply as *problem producing*. All this continues despite being an ineffective failure as public policy.

    Spreading like a fetid mold, problems ooze outward from the principle problem: Prohibition as policy versus Regulation of all drugs, as policy. And the band played on while people have been conned into a “good vs evil” black-and-white social conditioning and a “drugs bad” mentality that seemingly compartmentalizes alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, pharmaceuticals into a separate mental category, a “non-drug,” “not bad” category.

    One problem leads to another and another.

  17. Unless we put medical freedoms into the Constitution, the time will come when medicine will organize into a…dictatorship. To restrict the art of healing to one class of men and deny equal privileges to others will constitute the Bastille of medical science. All such laws are un-American and despotic and have no place in a republic. The Constitution
    of this republic should make special privilege for medical freedom as well as religious freedom.

    —Benjamin Rush, physician and signer of the
    Declaration of Independence

  18. until one of their family members are subjectected to it. it won’t change, just like obamacare, if it’s truly that good why doesnt the congress, and presiident and their families use it first for 10 yrs. if its a success than try a county, and so on and so forth. you want fix social security? put government officials on it. put congress on medicaid and medicare, just like us, put them on social security just like us. see how fast it gets fixed and paid attention too. unless it happens to them, it doesn’t matter! when you get that part through your head, then you will begin to fix the problem. entreprenuers get into business too make money, the american dream. not to give it away to someone who hasn’t worked to get it or went through the blood sweat and tears you did to get your small business off the ground, to make your life a little easier, along with your family and friends. it’s your money. you earned it! now if you make too much, they want to take it!! starts with the big where does it end? anybody ever see one of these end? i’ll name a few countries it ended. china, north korea, cuba, ussr, oh give them a few yrs. they will be back in full swing of trickle down economics, saul olinski’s dream utopia lives. putin is back, and ready to govern like his forefathers! scary times when china owns most of the u.s debt. ????? it’s open market debt, anyone could buy it, but the smartest country out there did. nobody can blame them. if i could buy that debt at that percentage rate!!!! i’d be the smartest richest man on the planet. but i’m just a disabled old x law enforcement, turned construction worker and got hit by a car broke down half intelligent, wish some people would wake up and smell the cofee, old soldier guy. wtf. do i know. anyway, stop watching lame stream media and seriously read an actual bill. or watch cspan its boring yes but you actually hear the bill proposed and u see how each side bends the words to fit their particular base. be informed, to many people watch comedians in the box news media. do some real reading, library of congress online. read a real bill. your head might explode. smoke it up. keep it real. don’t be fake and use your own words, don’t repeat and plagurize what you are programmed to see on lame stream media!! wake up. soilent green is calling you!!!

  19. The supreme court isn’t a joke… these are justices who are appointed for life terms and have to follow precendents. Mexico’s supreme court is packed full of corrupt morons. The whole jail search thing is valid. fine ppl at worst for marijuana possession. Don’t treat them like animals. They will behave like animals if they are. Look at the violence in Mexico.

  20. You can argue that Obama appointed Sotomayor because of race or whatever reason, but he was a constitutional law professor. He should damn well such a close decision demands careful scrutiny… If you’re going to legislate health care for all, don’t you have to at least have a medical degree? How about a psych degree too? Marijuana is the best sleeping pill there is and probably the world’s greatest stress reliever. Stress kills.

  21. I’m seeing some educated opinions forming rather than just rubbish trash talk i used to read on here… mind you abu graib was a long time ago… there aren’t any rules of war suffice it to say… civilians have to abide by the rule of law though… don’t just go shooting people. Thats effectively whats happening in mexico where 80% of the companies are bought by the drug cartels from the money they make from marijuana meth cocaine etc etc. Where do you think al queda gets its money? The European market.

  22. Most corrections officers are military trained… where do you think they learned to judge pows and treat them like dirt?

  23. Its so easy to bash the supreme court… 9 people holding the rule of law for a nation in their hands. You want to piss them off? stop bashing them and start punching holes in the system.

  24. good imput herbisto… you know what a social conservative answers to that? Recreational drugs don’t do society any good. Try and take an alcoholics liquor away… thats what they’re sooooo scared of. They also don’t see any pressure from a generation that just says oh well my privacy hasn’t been violated yet… wait till it happens to you.. some cocksucker telling you to lift your balls up or spread your cheeks. Ask them if they believe in God.

  25. 80-20 rule… 20 percent of consumers consume up to 80% of the drugs being used. Don’t mention half that shit doesn’t make it to market. Shit Tons are seized at the border ever year. Tell that to our PCLB. We’re the only state that doesn’t put beer in grocery stores. Not to mention wine… But the PCLB is one of the world’s largest purchasers of alcohol… Liquor is dirt cheap here.

  26. I’m allowed a lawyer when I’m questioned. Do I get an advocate when I’m strip searched. I think I need to have a pocket lawyer, just in case.

  27. Hello the issue is how can the government say there with god when they take away his plant. The simple matter of the fact is alcohol , cigarette’s, pills and toxic fumes top every death out there if that’s legal and an amazing beautiful plant marijuana/hemp which has no death tolls is not, how is that even logical. Furthermore the gateway drug is prohibition so by not legalizing it, those who go against legalizing are creating the drug problem. If it was legal then people would not have to go to dealers where they would be introduced to new drugs creating the “gateway affect” look at all the benefits of the plant if you think the government will lose control you are wrong we must stop toxic fuels and we must reap the fruits of nature on these natural herbs, we must make the change before we do enough damage where we destroy our beautiful land and earth. Why are non toxic fuels not allowed? How can the government and certain others not see the natural non toxic way to live is the best way to use resources, you are simple going against nature and god by not saving our planet as long as possible your destroying it with your pollution and prohibition on plants!!!!!!

  28. the government is afraid of people growing there own thats why they wont make it legal there afraid they would lose money and not all the pot is taxable this is not entirely true if they made it illegal to grow but legal to buy they could tax it there you go you greedy mother nature suckers thats how you do it pay for advanced equippment on tracking non government grow opps and make it legal to buy for fuel, medicines,and all of the amazing uses such as the nutrients from the seeds them selves and the amazing other benifits that have already been proved and used but PLEASE CREATE A NON TOXIC LEGAL USE OF FUEL AND HEMP/MARIJUANA MEDICINES!!!!

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