ALBUQUERQUE, NM – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico sent letters to county jails throughout the State of New Mexico, discouraging them from routinely strip searching arrestees without reasonable suspicion that they possess contraband. Despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that broadened strip search authority under the federal Constitution, the ACLU asserts that the New Mexico State Constitution would altogether prohibit routine, suspicionless strip searches.
“Our State Constitution holds our law enforcement officials to higher standards,” said ACLU of New Mexico Executive Director Peter Simonson. “In New Mexico, we know that subjecting people to routine strip searches without reasonable suspicion is wrong. It is humiliating, degrading and dehumanizing.”
New Mexico courts have consistently interpreted Article II, Section 10 of the New Mexico State Constitution (our state constitutional equivalent to the Fourth Amendment) to guarantee a ‘broad right’ to be ‘free from unwarranted governmental intrusion.’ Legal analysis of the state constitution has led ACLU of New Mexico attorneys to conclude that New Mexico courts would likely find suspicionless strip searches of people arrested for minor offenses unreasonable.
The case that prompted the Supreme Court ruling involved a man named Albert Florence, who was arrested in 2005 due to a police computer error that showed he failed to pay a fine he had already taken care of. Though innocent, Florence was held for six days and strip searched twice, made to squat naked and cough as jail officials examined his body. Throughout the country, an estimated 700,000 individuals are sent to jail for relatively minor infractions every year. Often people are found to be innocent of charges or the court drops the charges against them.
“This is something that could happen to anybody,” said ACLU of New Mexico Managing Attorney Laura Schauer Ives. “For something as small as forgetting to pay a traffic fine, you could find yourself standing naked before a government employee. We want to make sure that jail officials understand that this is unacceptable in New Mexico.”
In its letter, the ACLU of New Mexico declares its commitment to ensuring that the Supreme Court’s recent ruling does not give rise to gratuitous use of strip searches and violations under the New Mexico constitution in New Mexico’s jails.
Read the letter here: Letter to NM Jails