Ruling on strip-searches could lead to state-level lawsuit, attorney says

A Supreme Court ruling on Monday allowing jailers to strip-search people arrested for minor offenses has caught many observers by surprise.

Former Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said the ruling permits police officers to strip-search someone before any judicial procedure.

"They could be completely innocent and caught by surprise, yet they could be potentially subjected to this strip-search, which no matter how you slice it, is a humiliating experience and certainly against one's expectation of privacy," Gaertner said.

Speaking on MPR's Daily Circuit program, Gaertner said she doubts such strip searches will be used in Minnesota because she thinks jail officials are enlightened.

The Supreme Court ruled in the case of a New Jersey man who was arrested for an unpaid fine, held for two weeks, and strip-searched twice. The fine later turned out to have been paid. The court ruled 5-4 that officials may strip-search anyone jailed for any offense, even if there is no reason to suspect the presence of weapons or contraband.

Gaertner predicts the decision could lead to a state-level lawsuit on constitutional grounds.

"This decision is about what a reasonable search is within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, and basically the majority punted that decision - that call - on what's reasonable, to corrections officials," Gaertner said.

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