WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court is debating whether a man who was arrested on a warrant for an unpaid traffic ticket should be among prisoners strip-searched when taken into custody at the county jail.
The warrant was the result of a computer error, and defendant Albert Florence had paperwork proving that he had paid his tickets and served probation for the pile-up of outstanding violations collected in his 20s.
But, Florence said, he went from having a good day with his family to being horrified and humiliated and detained for days.
Florence was removed from the car where his pregnant wife and son were, arrested, taken to two county prisons, where in each he had to remove his clothing, bathe, stand in front of an officer, spread arms, squat, cough and get manhandled.
"The sense of going from hot to cold (is) something I won't forget," he said.
In the arguments to the high court on Wednesday, many of the justices seemed perplexed about just where to draw the line when it comes to who should be subject to a thorough strip search when being processed in jail.
Corrections officials and the Obama administration back a policy that allows close searches of anyone entering the general jail population. Lawyers for Florence argue that while people brought in on minor charges can be asked to disrobe and shower while being watched at a distance, they should not have to submit to a more thorough search without reason.
The court will have to balance Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure against the safety concerns of prison officials who must make sure that no one comes in with contraband, whether they were arrested on a violent crime like murder or a non-violent offense like a traffic violation.
After the arguments, Florence said he's waited six years for justice, and is happy to get his day in court. His lawyer Susan Chana Lask acknowledged that it's a difficult case, but entrusted the justices to come up with the right ruling.
"These prison guards are trained professionals in using reasonable suspicion," she said, arguing that guards can't get away with saying everybody is an equal threat.