Amidst the dust up over the Supreme Court’s oral arguments on health care reform, many people probably missed a ruling that just came out on Monday April 2nd: officers are now free to strip search anyone they arrest, even if they don’t suspect that contraband is being hidden by the arrestee.
A 2001 decision had already made it clear that custodial arrests were a-okay for even the slightest of offenses, including for violations that did not carry a potential sentence of jail time (i.e., only carried fines as penalties). Although an odd logic to say that potentially innocent people can be held prior to trial for a crime that doesn’t carry for guilty people the potential punishment for jail time, this was the Court’s legal holding. Making that ruling even more devilish, the case involved the likelihood that the custodial arrest was made for revenge by the officer, but no matter according to the Court, revenge arrests for not having your seatbelt on are a-okay.
Fast forward to April 2nd, when the court held that once your completely lawful revenge-based arrest for a violation was made, you may be strip-searched without any cause whatsoever—just being arrested is cause enough. According to the Court, this even includes leash law violations.
As someone who studies what police get to do lawfully to protesters before they ever go before a judge, this ruling is truly terrifying. Now, you may not need to just plan for how to be without medication, sleep, decent food, and other basic necessities after a protest arrest, you may also need to get ready to bend over and cough. It is true that many departments will not exercise this new found right, but it is also true that their failure to do so is purely now at their discretion. Imagine if this decision was in place before New York in 2004, before the G8 in Pittsburgh, before, well, you get the idea…