"So the issue is how close the guard can be to an individual in a single strip search,” Chief Justice John Roberts asked. “Is that all the case comes down to?”
The case stems from a traffic stop by a New Jersey state trooper on March 3, 2005.
Albert Florence, the finance director for a car dealership, was riding with his wife and three children in the family’s BMW. The officer arrested Mr. Florence for an outstanding warrant issued in Essex County.
The warrant had been issued several years earlier for civil contempt, because Florence had failed to promptly pay a fine. Once he paid the fine, a judge issued a document verifying that the judgment had been satisfied. Florence carried the order in his car to avoid being rearrested by police.
His wife showed the document to the trooper. But Essex County had failed to remove the warrant from its computer system. Florence was arrested and taken in handcuffs to the Burlington County Jail for transfer to Essex County on the pending warrant.
Once at a jail, officials instructed Florence to remove his clothing. They conducted a visual inspection of his body, instructing him to open his mouth, lift his tongue, lift his arms, and then lift his genitals.
Arrestees are supposed to be given a prompt hearing before a magistrate – but Florence was held at the jail for six days. On the sixth day, he was transferred to Essex County Jail where he was subjected to another strip search. This one was conducted in a shower area with several other detainees. He was instructed to open his mouth, lift his genitals, turn around, squat and cough.
The next day – a week after his arrest – Florence appeared before a judge who ordered his immediate release.
Florence filed a lawsuit against the two jails charging that the suspicion-less searches violated his Fourth Amendment right to privacy.