“Today’s decision jeopardizes the privacy rights of millions of people who are arrested each year and brought to jail, often for minor offenses,” said Steven R. Shapiro, legal director of the ACLU. “Being forced to strip naked is a humiliating experience that no one should have to endure absent reasonable suspicion. Jail security is important, but it does not require routinely strip searching everyone who is arrested for any reason, including traffic violations, and who may be in jail for only a few hours.”
“The practical impact of the decision remains to be seen,” Shapiro added. “Ten states prohibit strip searching minor offenders as a matter of state law, and those laws are unaffected by today’s opinion. In addition, the Court was careful to recognize that strip searches may still be unconstitutional under certain circumstances.”
You may recall that in 2001 the Supreme Court said the Fourth Amendment does not preclude “a warrantless arrest for a minor criminal offense, such as a misdemeanor seat belt violation punishable only by a fine.” Today’s ruling not only magnifies the potential humiliation associated with such an arrest; it enhances the already considerable power that police officers have to conduct searches during routine traffic stops. In states (such as Texas) that give police discretion to arrest people for minor traffic offenses such as failing to buckle your seat belt, officers can present drivers with a choice: a search of your car now or a search of your bodily orifices later.