ACLU Says Supreme Court Decision Upholding Strip Searches Puts Privacy Rights of Millions of Americans at Risk

April 2, 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today said a split Supreme Court ruling that people arrested for even minor offenses can be subjected to a strip search puts the privacy rights of millions of Americans at risk.

“Today’s decision jeopardizes the privacy rights of millions of people who are arrested each year and brought to jail, often for minor offenses,” said Steven R. Shapiro, legal director of the ACLU. “Being forced to strip naked is a humiliating experience that no one should have to endure absent reasonable suspicion. Jail security is important, but it does not require routinely strip searching everyone who is arrested for any reason, including traffic violations, and who may be in jail for only a few hours. ”

“The practical impact of the decision remains to be seen,” Shapiro added. “Ten states prohibit strip searching minor offenders as a matter of state law, and those laws are unaffected by today’s opinion. In addition, the Court was careful to recognize that strip searches may still be unconstitutional under certain circumstances.”

“The best way to preserve the privacy of the millions of Americans who are arrested each year for minor offenses,” Shapiro said, “is not to put them in jail in the first place. Instead, we should be using cheaper and more effective alternatives to incarceration.”

In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled against a New Jersey man erroneously arrested during a 2005 traffic stop for a fine he had already paid. Today’s ruling holds that even people arrested for minor offenses can be subjected to strip searches.

The ACLU and the ACLU of New jersey last year filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of five former New Jersey attorneys general who opposed the blanket strip search policies in place at the time at two New Jersey jails.

 

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