A recent United States Supreme Court decision upholding the propriety of strip searches for minor offenses will have no immediate impact on procedures in place at the Warren County Jail.
On April 2, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the United States Third Circuit Court of appeals in the case of Florence versus Board of Freeholders of County of Burlington.
The court ruled in the decision that a correctional facility could perform strip searches on all detainees entering facility populations, regardless of severity of offense or whether an individual had actually been convicted yet. The majority opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy cited a correctional facility's need to prevent smuggling of contraband and spread of disease as being of significant enough weight to justify a strip search.
The case hinged on an incident in New Jersey in which Albert Florence was arrested during a traffic stop and mistakenly charged with contempt of court for failure to pay a fine. He was held in jail for six days, despite having already payed the fine. During his incarceration, Florence was subjected to two strip searches.
Nationally, the question has arisen as to whether those being held for minor offenses until they can make bail, clear up warrants or deal with other minutiae requiring they be detained can be strip searched.
According to Warren County Jail Warden Jerry Britton, the jail does not have a holding area and all incoming detainees are held amongst the jail's population.
"At this point it really hasn't made any impact," Britton noted. "We've been advised to keep doing what we're doing until the DOC (Dept. of Corrections) can provide further clarification."
Britton said the policy, as he understands it, only allows strip searches if you actually enter a correctional facility's general population. He said he does not believe the ruling allows for strip searches of those who are being held, but are not actually incarcerated.
"It gives them reasonable time to make bail and then they're out," according to Britton. "I think what they're struggling for is, if someone can make bail right away, they don't really enter the system."