RICHMOND, Va (WTVR) – In response to a controversial ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia is asking Sheriffs and Jailers state-wide to supply copies of their strip search policies.
Last Monday the high court ruled people arrested for even minor offenses may be subject to invasive strip searches, siding with jails over security needs over personal privacy rights.
The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the policies with all 145 of Virginia’s Sheriffs and jail superintendents Thursday via e-mail.
“Contrary to what many believe, the Supreme Court decision is not a license to expand strip searches in Virginia,” ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis said in a statement. “State law makes it clear that strip searches for minor crimes are prohibited in most circumstances, and that law has not been changed.”
According to the ACLU’s website, people arrested for traffic infractions, or class 3 or 4 misdemeanors may only be strip searched if law enforcement officers have reason to believe the arrestee may be carrying a weapon. The group also says all agencies are required to have written guidelines on strip searches so officers know when they are permitted to perform them.
“We hope that our request will show that all local and regional jails are acting in compliance with the Virginia law,” Willis said in the statement. “This is not a time to back away from the policies we have in Virginia, but to strengthen them in order to ensure that the privacy rights of detainees are protected.”
The Supreme Court was divided, voting 5-4 in favor of two New Jersey jails. Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion with the court’s conservative wing, saying the courts are in no position to second-guess corrections officers.
At least 10 states ban the procedure and federal policy prohibits searches without suspicion of contraband.
Justice Breyer wrote the dissenting opinion, calling the ruling “an affront to human dignity.”
The case involved a man in New Jersey held in jail for a week and strip searched for an outstanding fine. It was later discovered the man had already paid that fine.