Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders of the Cnty. of Burlington, No. 10–945.

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtJustice KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to Part IV.
Citation182 L.Ed.2d 566,566 U.S. 318,132 S.Ct. 1510
Docket NumberNo. 10–945.
Decision Date02 April 2012
Parties Albert W. FLORENCE, Petitioner v. BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS OF the COUNTY OF BURLINGTON et al.

566 U.S. 318
132 S.Ct.
1510
182 L.Ed.2d 566

Albert W. FLORENCE, Petitioner
v.
BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS OF the COUNTY OF BURLINGTON et al.

No. 10–945.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued Oct. 12, 2011.
Decided April 2, 2012.


Thomas C. Goldstein, for Petitioner.

Carter G. Phillips, Washington, DC, for Respondents.

Nicole A. Saharsky, for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court, supporting the Respondents.

Jeffrey L. Fisher, Pamela S. Karlan, Stanford Law School, Supreme Court, Litigation Clinic, Stanford, CA, Susan Chana Lask, Counsel of Record, New York, NY, Thomas C. Goldstein, Amy Howe, Kevin K. Russell, Tejinder Singh, Goldstein & Russell, P.C., Washington, DC, for Petitioner.

J. Brooks DiDonato, Parker McCay, Mount Laurel, NJ, Alfred W. Putnam, Jr., Counsel of Record, D. Alicia Hickok, Tara S. Sarosiek, Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, Philadelphia, PA, for Respondents.

Alan Ruddy, Assistant Essex County Counsel, Office of the County Counsel, Newark, NH, Carter G. Phillips, Counsel of Record, Eamon P. Joyce, Ryan C. Morris, Joshua J. Fougere, Sidley Austin LLP, Washington, DC, Robyn H. Frumkin, Sidley Austin LLP, New York, NY, for Respondents Essex County Correctional Facility and Essex County Sheriff's Department.

Justice KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to Part IV.1

566 U.S. 322

Correctional officials have a legitimate interest, indeed a responsibility, to ensure that jails are not made less secure by reason of what new detainees may carry in on their bodies. Facility personnel, other inmates, and the new detainee himself or herself may be in danger if these threats are introduced into the jail population. This case presents the question of what rules, or limitations, the Constitution imposes on searches of arrested persons who are to be held in jail while their cases are being processed. The term "jail" is used here in a broad sense to include prisons and other detention facilities. The specific measures being challenged will be described in more detail; but, in broad terms, the controversy concerns whether every detainee who will be admitted to the general population may be required to undergo a close visual inspection while undressed.

The case turns in part on the extent to which this Court has sufficient expertise and information in the record to mandate, under the Constitution, the specific restrictions and limitations sought by those who challenge the visual search procedures at issue. In addressing this type of constitutional claim courts must defer to the judgment

132 S.Ct. 1514

of correctional

566 U.S. 323

officials unless the record contains substantial evidence showing their policies are an unnecessary or unjustified response to problems of jail security. That necessary showing has not been made in this case.

I

In 1998, seven years before the incidents at issue, petitioner Albert Florence was arrested after fleeing from police officers in Essex County, New Jersey. He was charged with obstruction of justice and use of a deadly weapon. Petitioner entered a plea of guilty to two lesser offenses and was sentenced to pay a fine in monthly installments. In 2003, after he fell behind on his payments and failed to appear at an enforcement hearing, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. He paid the outstanding balance less than a week later; but, for some unexplained reason, the warrant remained in a statewide computer database.

Two years later, in Burlington County, New Jersey, petitioner and his wife were stopped in their automobile by a state trooper. Based on the outstanding warrant in the computer system, the officer arrested petitioner and took him to the Burlington County Detention Center. He was held there for six days and then was transferred to the Essex County Correctional Facility. It is not the arrest or confinement but the search process at each jail that gives rise to the claims before the Court.

Burlington County jail procedures required every arrestee to shower with a delousing agent. Officers would check arrestees for scars, marks, gang tattoos, and contraband as they disrobed. App. to Pet. for Cert. 53a–56a. Petitioner claims he was also instructed to open his mouth, lift his tongue, hold out his arms, turn around, and lift his genitals. (It is not clear whether this last step was part of the normal practice. See ibid. ) Petitioner shared a cell with at least one other person and interacted with other inmates following his admission to the jail. Tr. of Oral Arg. 17.

566 U.S. 324

The Essex County Correctional Facility, where petitioner was taken after six days, is the largest county jail in New Jersey. App. 70a. It admits more than 25,000 inmates each year and houses about 1,000 gang members at any given time. When petitioner was transferred there, all arriving detainees passed through a metal detector and waited in a group holding cell for a more thorough search. When they left the holding cell, they were instructed to remove their clothing while an officer looked for body markings, wounds, and contraband. Apparently without touching the detainees, an officer looked at their ears, nose, mouth, hair, scalp, fingers, hands, arms, armpits, and other body openings. Id., at 57a–59a; App. to Pet. for Cert. 137a–144a. This policy applied regardless of the circumstances of the arrest, the suspected offense, or the detainee's behavior, demeanor, or criminal history. Petitioner alleges he was required to lift his genitals, turn around, and cough in a squatting position as part of the process. After a mandatory shower, during which his clothes were inspected, petitioner was admitted to the facility. App. 3a–4a, 52a, 258a. He was released the next day, when the charges against him were dismissed.

Petitioner sued the governmental entities that operated the jails, one of the wardens, and certain other defendants. The suit was commenced in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. Seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, petitioner maintained that persons arrested for a minor offense could not be required

132 S.Ct. 1515

to remove their clothing and expose the most private areas of their bodies to close visual inspection as a routine part of the intake process. Rather, he contended, officials could conduct this kind of search only if they had reason to suspect a particular inmate of concealing a weapon, drugs, or other contraband. The District Court certified a class of individuals who were charged with a nonindictable offense under New Jersey law, processed at either the Burlington County or Essex County

566 U.S. 325

jail, and directed to strip naked even though an officer had not articulated any reasonable suspicion they were concealing contraband.

After discovery, the court granted petitioner's motion for summary judgment on the unlawful search claim. It concluded that any policy of "strip searching" nonindictable offenders without reasonable suspicion violated the Fourth Amendment. A divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed, holding that the procedures described by the District Court struck a reasonable balance between inmate privacy and the security needs of the two jails. 621 F.3d 296 (2010). The case proceeds on the understanding that the officers searched detainees prior to their admission to the general population, as the Court of Appeals seems to have assumed. See id., at 298, 311. Petitioner has not argued this factual premise is incorrect.

The opinions in earlier proceedings, the briefs on file, and some cases of this Court refer to a "strip search." The term is imprecise. It may refer simply to the instruction to remove clothing while an officer observes from a distance of, say, five feet or more; it may mean a visual inspection from a closer, more uncomfortable distance; it may include directing detainees to shake their heads or to run their hands through their hair to dislodge what might be hidden there; or it may involve instructions to raise arms, to display foot insteps, to expose the back of the ears, to move or spread the buttocks or genital areas, or to cough in a squatting position. In the instant case, the term does not include any touching of unclothed areas by the inspecting officer. There are no allegations that the detainees here were touched in any way as part of the searches.

The Federal Courts of Appeals have come to differing conclusions as to whether the Fourth Amendment requires correctional officials to exempt some detainees who will be admitted to a jail's general population from the searches here

566 U.S. 326

at issue. This Court granted certiorari to address the question. 563 U.S. ––––, 131 S.Ct. 1816, 179 L.Ed.2d 772 (2011).

II

The difficulties of operating a detention center must not be underestimated by the courts. Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 84–85, 107 S.Ct. 2254, 96 L.Ed.2d 64 (1987)....

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422 practice notes
  • Sims v. Labowitz, No. 16-2174
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • March 14, 2018
    ...Fourth Amendment. Winston , 470 U.S. at 767, 105 S.Ct. 1611 ; see, e.g. , Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders of Cty. of Burlington , 566 U.S. 318, 330-38, 132 S.Ct. 1510, 182 L.Ed.2d 566 (2012) (holding that invasive search procedures at jail struck a reasonable balance between inmate pr......
  • Leaders of A Beautiful Struggle v. Balt. Police Dep't, No. 20-1495
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • November 5, 2020
    ..., 541 U.S. 149, 124 S.Ct. 1582, 158 L.Ed.2d 311 (2004), and programmatic searches in prisons. See Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders , 566 U.S. 318, 132 S.Ct. 1510, 182 L.Ed.2d 566 (2012). Therefore, we will also evaluate the AIR program under the balancing test used for programmatic sea......
  • Henry v. Hulett, No. 16-4234
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • August 11, 2020
    ...of "persons" under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders of Cty. of Burlington , 566 U.S. 318, 326–27, 339, 132 S.Ct. 1510, 182 L.Ed.2d 566 (2012) ; Bell v. Wolfish , 441 U.S. 520, 560, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979). The "touchstone......
  • Hinkle v. Beckham Cnty. Bd. of Cnty. Commissioners, No. 18-6202
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • June 22, 2020
    ...not have a true segregation option," the district court ruled that the policy was lawful under Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders , 566 U.S. 318, 132 S.Ct. 1510 , 182 L.Ed.2d 566 (2012). Id. at 1425. The court also concluded that Officer Atwood did not violate Florence ’s touching e......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
411 cases
  • Sims v. Labowitz, No. 16-2174
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • March 14, 2018
    ...Fourth Amendment. Winston , 470 U.S. at 767, 105 S.Ct. 1611 ; see, e.g. , Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders of Cty. of Burlington , 566 U.S. 318, 330-38, 132 S.Ct. 1510, 182 L.Ed.2d 566 (2012) (holding that invasive search procedures at jail struck a reasonable balance between inmate pr......
  • Leaders of A Beautiful Struggle v. Balt. Police Dep't, No. 20-1495
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • November 5, 2020
    ..., 541 U.S. 149, 124 S.Ct. 1582, 158 L.Ed.2d 311 (2004), and programmatic searches in prisons. See Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders , 566 U.S. 318, 132 S.Ct. 1510, 182 L.Ed.2d 566 (2012). Therefore, we will also evaluate the AIR program under the balancing test used for programmatic sea......
  • Henry v. Hulett, No. 16-4234
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • August 11, 2020
    ...are "searches" of "persons" under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders of Cty. of Burlington , 566 U.S. 318, 326–27, 339, 132 S.Ct. 1510, 182 L.Ed.2d 566 (2012) ; Bell v. Wolfish , 441 U.S. 520, 560, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979). The "touchstone......
  • Hinkle v. Beckham Cnty. Bd. of Cnty. Commissioners, No. 18-6202
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • June 22, 2020
    ...not have a true segregation option," the district court ruled that the policy was lawful under Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders , 566 U.S. 318, 132 S.Ct. 1510 , 182 L.Ed.2d 566 (2012). Id. at 1425. The court also concluded that Officer Atwood did not violate Florence ’s touching e......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
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