Losing More than Liberty

 The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” 

–          The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution 

What could be more explicit?

Albert Florence was a passenger in a car traveling on a New Jersey road when the driver was pulled over by a New Jersey State Trooper.  Florence was taken in to custody on a non-indictable civil matter unrelated to the traffic stop.  Even though he claimed the unpaid matter had been taken care of, the trooper brought him to the jail to be booked.  In the booking process, Florence was told to strip, hold his hands out, lift his genitals, and raise his tongue with his mouth open.  All of this took place with a jailer standing within an arm’s length. 

If that wasn’t bad enough, Florence was transported from the Burlington County Jail to the Essex County Correctional Facility after 6 days.  At Essex, he went through a similar naked routine as he did upon entering the Burlington County Jail. This time “he and four other detainees were instructed to enter separate shower stalls, strip naked and shower under the watchful eyes of two corrections officers. After showering, Florence was directed to open his mouth and lift his genitals. Next, he was ordered to turn around so he faced away from the officers and to squat and cough.”  After a day spent in the Essex County facility, the charges against Florence were dropped and he was released. 

Strip searching is getting out of hand. 

Shoshana Hebshi has become somewhat of a household name since September 11 of this year.  Spend some time reading her blog of Sept. 12 on her website http://shebshi.wordpress.com/.  She is continuing to write further on this matter and I, for one, plan to check in periodically. If you don’t know, Shoshana is a married suburban mother of twins who just happens to have a parent who is Jewish and one who is Saudi Arabian.  She sat next to two men from India on a plane from Denver to Detroit. Someone on the plane reported that the three (who didn’t know each other from Adam) were engaged in suspicious activity – evidently the two men used the lavatory.  Upon landing in Detroit, the plane was diverted to an isolated designation and the three were removed from the plane in handcuffs, interrogated, strip searched, and allowed to leave after a considerable amount of time.

Shoshana describes her observances, her fear, her apprehension, and her embarrassing moments.  She had to urinate before being removed from the plane, but she couldn’t in the cell because of the lack of cleanliness, and because “[n]ear the ceiling above the toilet there was a video camera.”

When she was free to leave after hours of being held, a federal officer “apologized for what had happened and thanked me for understanding and cooperating.”  Yuk!  Thanks for cooperating?  And, if she hadn’t?   He told her: “It’s 9/11 and people are seeing ghosts. They are seeing things that aren’t there.” He said they had to act on a report of suspicious behavior, and this is what the reaction looks like.”  She doesn’t know how this will affect her.  For one thing, she claims she will no longer fly on September 11.  I would quit flying altogether.  Of course, I haven’t flown since 1999.

Shoshana sums it up properly by noticing what we all have experienced.  “This country has operated for the last 10 years through fear. “  In a more recent blog she wrote that “the story is not about me. It’s about our rights. We live in a country that was founded on distinct principles of freedom and democracy. We have a constitution to protect those tenets. There is nothing clearer than that.” 

Two years ago, several high school girls in Atlantic, Iowa, were strip-searched as a result of a claim by another student that her $100 was missing.  A lawsuit over the incident was settled on Tuesday (Sept. 20) of this week when an attorney for the school issued the following media release:  “After the investigation of all the facts involving the searches of several girls at the Atlantic High School several years ago, the Atlantic Community School District has determined that the searches violated the school’s policy and state law regarding school searches. The school district acknowledges that the involved girls did nothing wrong.”

Albert Florence, Shoshana Hebshi, and four unnamed girls in the Atlantic Community School District were all ordered by different levels of government (state, federal, local) to remove clothing from their body and stand naked in front of an agent of government [Note:  The girls in Atlantic were never totally naked, and each had to disrobe to different degrees of nudity, shaking bras and panties being part of the procedure].  None of them were charged with a crime.  None of them were a threat to the government or to society.  Yet, they were forced into humiliation and embarrassment.  They cooperated.  But what if they hadn’t? 

Does our Fourth Amendment mean anything anymore?  The Atlantic high school girls are compensated for what they had to endure; Shoshana Hebshi has been in contact with the ACLU; but here’s the scary part.  On Wednesday, October 12, the United States Supreme Court will conduct oral arguments in the case of Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders, 621 F. 3d 296 (3d Cir. 2010).  The sole question before the High Court is “whether the Fourth Amendment permits a jail to conduct a suspicionless strip search of every individual arrested for any minor offense no matter what the circumstances.”  This is Albert Florence’s case.  Don’t think for one minute that this is a slam-dunk case. 

The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that “the strip search procedures described by the District Court at BCJ and ECCF are reasonable.” The Appeals court reversed the “District Court’s grant of summary judgment” and remanded the case “for further proceedings consistent with [its] opinion.”  In coming to this conclusion, two of the three circuit judges based their reasoning on balancing “the Jails’ security interests at the time of intake before arrestees enter the general population against the privacy interests of the inmates.”  They gave more weight to the security interests.

And there you have it.  Ben Franklin’s famous quote was almost obscure until ten years ago.  Since terrorists have successfully drove Americans into a state of fear following 9-11, we have “sacrificed liberty for the sake of a little temporary safety,” and have deserved neither.  We have allowed the government to ransack our bodies.  Children are constantly told not to allow strangers to touch them or allow them to see their private parts.  How do you then explain to a child what happens at airports when TSA workers grab people inappropriately – including some toddlers? 

We’re losing our safety, our liberty, and our dignity.  But most importantly, we’re losing our Fourth Amendment.  Sadly, no one seems to be offering a reward for its safe return.

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3 Responses to Losing More than Liberty

  1. IRV HOFFBAUER says:

    KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK

  2. Hi, I’m Susan Chana Lask, Esq-the attorney who brought Albert Florence’s case to the U.S. Supreme Court. I like your article as it certainly concludes the state of affairs our country is in with these indiscriminate strip seraches. Just one correction-although the brief says the issue as you state, it actually is must the jails articulate reasonable suspicion of contraband, drugs or weapons being concealed on the person of a non-criminal arresttee before strip searching them? That actually is the law in the state and the actual regulatins the jails impose. The problem is they got lazy and conducted blanket strip searches of everyone thinking noone would catch on–but I did. For more info about the Flornce case see

    • Susan,

      Thank you for the clarification. We’re not attorneys, and I hadn’t read much more than the Question Presented on the SCOTUS website. However, we did read the case below. We’re doing out best to preserve what’s left of the Fourth Amemdment, and we’re trying hard to let people know that you don’t have to be a criminal to be treated like one. We’re proud of you and wish you the best as this goes forward. We’ll be paying attention to how things go on the 12th. Best of luck!

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