Forgot to Pay That Speeding Ticket? “Turn around. Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.”

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Top Tier Gear USA


Sarah Boaz was ticketed for running a stop sign in August.

She lost the ticket.  She figured a new one would be sent, or that she’d receive some kind of notice in the mail. She expected to pay some kind of late fee or penalty.

What she didn’t expect was to find the Richland Hills City Marshal waiting at her Texas home with an arrest warrant last Wednesday morning.

Boaz was handcuffed and brought to jail, where a female officer started giving her instructions. She was not prepared for what happened next:

“I’m going to need you to undress. I’m going to need you to stand against the wall. Please don’t step in front of this white box, or I’ll take that as aggressive toward me,” said the officer.

“Obviously I am going to jail. I guess it was just frustrating to me, that a bill that I pay a month late, I end up in jail for,” Boaz said.

She said she knows it was wrong not to pay the ticket right away, but didn’t expect to be picked up and taken to jail.

Attorney Jason Smith told CBS 11 News that there’s nothing that requires the city to put people in jail:

“The constitution doesn’t keep the government or government officials from not using common sense. Unfortunately, some police officers, some governments get overly aggressive because they want that ticket revenue.”

Strip searches are a common procedure in jails, despite controversy and lawsuits over the practice.

Albert Florence was in the passenger seat of his car when his wife was pulled over for speeding in 2005. The New Jersey state trooper ran a records search and found an outstanding warrant for Florence’s arrest for an unpaid fine – a fine that he had, in fact, paid, and had the documentation to prove it. Florence was handcuffed and arrested anyway.

Even if the warrant had been valid, failure to pay a fine is not a crime in New Jersey.

Florence was held in two different jails for nearly a week.  He was subjected to strip searches at each, even though there wasn’t any reason to suspect he was carrying contraband or guilty of a crime.

He was forced to stand naked in front of several guards and other prisoners and instructed to “Turn around. Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.”

“I consider myself a man’s man. Six-three. Big guy. It was humiliating. It made me feel less than a man. It made me feel not better than an animal,” said Florence.

On the sixth day of his detention, a judge dropped all charges, and Florence filed a lawsuit.

In 2012, the Supreme Court heard Florence’s case, and ruled in a 5-4 decision that detention centers do not need suspicion or a reason to strip search a detainee, no matter how minor the offense:

“Courts must defer to the judgment of correctional officials unless the record contains substantial evidence showing their policies are an unnecessary or unjustified response to problems of jail security. Every detainee who will be admitted to the general population may be required to undergo a close visual inspection while undressed,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said.

Justice Stephen Breyer dissented, stating:

“In my view, such a search of an individual arrested for a minor offense that does not involve drugs or violence — say a traffic offense, a regulatory offense, an essentially civil matter, or any other such misdemeanor — is an ‘unreasonable search’ forbidden by the Fourth Amendment, unless prison authorities have reasonable suspicion to believe that the individual possesses drugs or other contraband.”

“A strip search that involves a stranger peering without consent at a naked individual, and in particular at the most private portions of that person’s body, is a serious invasion of privacy. . . . Even when carried out in a respectful manner, and even absent any physical touching, such searches are inherently harmful, humiliating, and degrading. And the harm to privacy interests would seem particularly acute where the person searched may well have no expectation of being subject to such a search, say, because she had simply received a traffic ticket for failing to buckle a seatbelt, because he had not previously paid a civil fine, or because she had been arrested for a minor trespass.” (source)

About 14 million people are admitted to jails in the U.S. each year. Every one of them can be subjected to the humiliation and invasion of privacy that Boaz and Florence experienced, no matter how minor the offense.

The Fourth Amendment was designed to stand between us and arbitrary governmental authority. For all practical purposes, that shield has been shattered, leaving our liberty and personal integrity subject to the whim of every cop on the beat, trooper on the highway and jail official. —Herman Schwartz, The Nation

Incidentally, Boaz’s husband was pulled over and ticketed for running a stop sign a few days ago.

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