Constitutional Faces: Albert Florence

September 13th, 2011

A nice profile of Albert Florence, the petitioner in this Term’s Florence v. Burlington County (Jersey, where else).

Almost everyone can agree that what happened to Albert Florence in 2005 sounds shocking.

A New Jersey state trooper pulled over their car as Florence and his family were on their way to his mother-in-law’s to celebrate their new home. He was handcuffed and arrested in front of his distraught, pregnant wife and young son.

He spent seven days in jail because of a warrant that said, mistakenly, he was wanted for failure to pay a court fine. In fact, he carried proof that the fine had been paid years earlier.

And he was strip-searched twice, the humiliation that he says most remains with him six years later.

“I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” Florence, 35, said in a recent interview, describing how he was forced to strip with other men and be examined by a guard.

And some more about the Petitioner:

A finance manager for a car dealership and now father of four, Florence had a run-in with law enforcement in 1998. For driving off after a traffic stop, he was charged with obstruction of justice and use of a deadly weapon (the vehicle).

He pleaded guilty to lesser charges of hindering prosecution and obstructing the administration of law. He did no jail time but was fined $1,500.

When he fell behind in payment, a Newark judge issued a warrant. But Florence paid up, and he kept the document certifying that fact in the glove compartment of his BMW. “It was stamped with a raised seal and signed by an officer,” Florence recalled. “Just in case that situation was to come up, I had that document.”

But it did no good. On the day of his arrest, his wife April was driving, but when the trooper checked the car’s owner, he found the warrant for Florence’s arrest. April retrieved the document, but the trooper said he had to go by what was in the computer.

There is a dispute about what happened next, both at the Burlington County Detention Facility, where Florence was first held, and at Essex. Standard procedure at Burlington is for those about to enter the center to undergo a “visual observation” while the detainee showers with a delousing solution. Florence contends he was also ordered to “open his mouth and lift his tongue, rotate, and lift his genitals.”

At Essex, Florence said he and other men being admitted were forced to “open their mouths, lift their genitals, turn around, squat and cough.” Essex officials in court papers say their guards observe inmates disrobing and taking a shower and search their clothes for contraband.

Florence was at Essex only a short time before a judge ordered his release.