Florence v. The Board of Chosen Freeholders

Summary

On April 2, the Supreme Court delivered a 5-4 decision in Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington. The question in Florence centered around the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizures. The Court was asked to consider if the Fourth Amendment permits jail officers to conduct a suspicion-less strip search whenever an individual is arrested, including for minor offenses.

The Court upheld a lower court ruling that gave jails the authority to strip search persons entering a jail’s general population regardless of crime. Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority decision, said “Courts must defer to the judgment of correctional officials unless the record contains substantial evidence showing their policies are an unnecessary or unjustified response to problems of jail security.”

In his dissent, Justice Breyer noted that, “a search of an individual arrested for a minor offense that does not involve drugs or violence—say a traffic offense, a regulatory offense, an essentially civil matter, or any other such misdemeanor—is an “unreasonable searc[h]” forbidden by the Fourth Amendment, unless prison authorities have reasonable suspicion to believe that the individual possesses drugs or other contraband.”

Use this eLesson to teach your students about the Florence case.


Student Handout (PDF)

Teacher Key

Resources

Bill of Rights Institute Resources

National Constitution Center Resources

News Resources

Questions to Consider

  1. What constitutional question was the Court asked to consider?
  2. How did the Court rule? What was their reasoning?
  3. Should the Court have considered questions of jailhouse security when determining the constitutionality of strip searches? Why or why not?
  4. Do you agree with the Court’s ruling? Why or why not?