Good news from the Capitol today.
A bill to restrict the use of strip and body cavity searches passed out of the House Judiciary Committee and will be debated on the House floor Thursday or Friday.
Senate Bill 194 prohibits the use of strip and body cavity searches on people arrested for misdemeanor offenses (like traffic stops) unless there is reasonable suspicion to believe the person is concealing a weapon, contraband, or evidence of the commission of a crime.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Anders Blewett (D-Great Falls) and came out of the ACLU of Montana's dismay over a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that strip and body cavity searches are legal any time a person is arrested, even for traffic violations and even when there is no reason to believe the person is hiding contraband.
That case, Florence v. Burlington, is appalling.
A New Jersey state trooper pulled over Florence’s pregnant wife as she was driving Florence and their 4-year-old son to dinner to celebrate their purchase of a home. Because Florence owned the vehicle, the officer ran his license and discovered a warrant for an outstanding noncriminal traffic fine. Despite the fact that Florence had already paid the fine and carried an official letter proving it, the police arrested him and dragged him off to jail. He was incarcerated for six days and subjected to two invasive strip searches. "I was just told, 'Do as you're told.' Wash in this disgusting soap and obey the directions of the officer who was instructing me to turn around, lift my genitals up, turn around, and squat." Finally a judge freed Florence, confirming that he had in fact paid his fine.
The Supreme Court's decision in the case -- that the strip search was ok -- was dismaying, and spurred the ACLU to take action to prevent that kind of invasion of privacy here in Montana.
We're very pleased that the bill is moving forward.