J.B. v Fassnacht

J.B., a 12-year-old boy, was strip searched upon admission to the Lancaster County Youth Intervention Center pursuant to the detention center’s policy that all youth be strip searched upon admission. Three weeks earlier, police had been called after J.B. threatened another child in his backyard with a homemade knife. Because police determined that he was not a threat to safety and that his parents could supervise him, J.B. was initially allowed to remain at home.

J.B was brought to the detention center by his parents three weeks later, at the request of the police. J.B. was strip searched on a Friday, remained in detention through the weekend, and then appeared before a judge on the following Monday. The judge found that J.B. once again was not a safety or flight risk and released him to return home with his parents.

J.B. was never adjudicated delinquent for the alleged offense, but rather entered into a consent decree, agreeing to write a letter of apology to his neighbors, and comply with conditions of probation. According to Pennsylvania law, the petition alleging delinquency was subsequently dismissed and expunged.  

J.B.’s parents filed a civil rights action on his behalf in federal court, alleging that the strip search violated J.B.’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The U.S. Supreme Court has previously held that adults entering jail may be subjected to blanket strip-search policies even when charged with only minor offenses. Florence v. Chosen Board of Freeholders, 132 S. Ct. 1510 (2012). The  district court partially granted J.B.’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Florence does not apply to searches of juveniles entering detention facilities. The Third Circuit reversed, ruling that it was bound by Florence.

Juvenile Law Center, along with Kevin Allen of Crystle, Allen & Braught, filed a petition for certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court asking the Court to address the important, unsettled questions of law regarding the constitutionality of suspicionless strip searches of youth in juvenile detention centers, and whether such searches are permissible prior to a judicial determination of the appropriateness of the detention.

The Petition underscored the importance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent case law – Miller v. Alabama, Graham v. Florida, Roper v. Simmons, and J.D.B. v. North Carolina -- directing courts to consider the distinct characteristics and vulnerabilities of youth when crafting constitutional standards.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition for certiorari, leaving these important questions unaddressed.