After a New Jersey man was mistakenly arrested for not paying a paid traffic ticket, then subjected to strip-searches at two jails, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that officials may strip-search those arrested for any offense.
While the 5-4 ruling was decided in response to perceived safety concerns, the measure covers far too many trivial cases in which a strip-search is extremely unnecessary.
The procedure is forbidden in at least 10 states and opposes the current federal policy. The ruling allows authorities to strip-search people even if they are arrested on minor charges, such as riding a bicycle without a bell or failing to use a turn signal while driving, according to the New York Times.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who voted in favor of the ruling, said that people detained for minor offenses can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals. He cited the Sept. 11 attacks, noting that the man who hijacked Flight 93 was stopped for speeding two days before the attacks.
However, far more people arrested on minor offenses turn out to be relatively harmless. This is not to say they should not be arrested and tried, but they should not be treated with the same level of suspicion as someone convicted of smuggling drugs.
According to the Times, about 13 million people are arrested each year. Subjecting every one of them to a strip-search would be an enormous waste of the police forces time and causes unnecessary embarrassment and perhaps even trauma for those arrested.
In a study in Orange County, N.Y., one out of the 23,000 people arrested had hidden contraband that would otherwise not have been found.
Though the justices have claimed that the searches for weapons and contraband such as drugs is to protect other inmates, much can be accomplished through other procedures, such as pat-downs and metal detectors.
As the opposition to the bill points out, allowing strip-searches may be traumatizing for those who have suffered abuse or sexual assault and may even cause the victim to relive the incident. The blanket ruling could allow for abuse from officers to go undetected, as well, if the procedure becomes routine.
Additionally, people who have been arrested for charges have not been convicted of anything. Subjecting them to strip-searches only adds to their experience and may incite distaste or even distrust of police officials.
The law enforcement system would be better off if extreme measures such as strip-searches were reserved for extreme and suspicious cases.