A U.S. Court of Appeals ruled recently that a nonconsensual X-ray of a suspect’s abdomen did not violate his constitutional rights. The case was heard in the 1st Circuit, which does not include North Carolina. However, federal appeals courts often cite cases from other jurisdictions as persuasive, rather than binding, law. And, when it comes to court opinions on constitutional matters, criminal defense attorneys around the country take notice.
The plaintiff in this case was arrested for driving with a suspended license. According to court documents, an informant told the police that the plaintiff had placed crack cocaine in his anal cavity. The police obtained a warrant. Officers took the plaintiff to the hospital.
When the doctor failed to find any drugs with a digital exam, he ordered an X-ray of the plaintiff’s kidneys, ureters and bladder — in medical terms, a KUB study. The police claimed that an X-ray is often appropriate because a digital exam can be inconclusive. The X-ray revealed no contraband in the plaintiff’s anal cavity or stomach.
The plaintiff sued the officers, the city and the hospital, claiming first that they violated his constitutional rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and 14th Amendments by X-raying his entire abdomen. Second, he said, their actions violated the state’s civil rights laws. Finally, he accused them of assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, municipal/supervisory liability and invasion of privacy.
It’s a long list. The main focus of the complaint, though, was that the warrant called for a search of the plaintiff’s anal cavity. The X-ray — that is, the actual search — included much more than was called for, especially the plaintiff’s stomach.
In our next post, we’ll discuss the court’s opinion.
Source: The National Law Journal, “Warrant for body search encompasses nonconsensual X-ray,” Sheri Qualters, Oct. 19, 2011