A man convicted of dealing drugs in 2015 became an unlikely civil rights hero on Aug. 14 when the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the methods police used to obtain the crack cocaine used to convict him violated his rights against unreasonable searches and seizures guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. The drugs were recovered after the man was sedated, strapped to a table and subjected to a cavity search of his rectum.
Police say that they saw the man appear to conceal the drugs when he was taken into custody following an undercover narcotics buy. Doctors at North Memorial Hospital refused to perform a cavity search because the warrant obtained by police did not specifically authorize such an invasive procedure. The search was later performed by doctors at the Hennepin County Medical Center after police had obtained a more explicit warrant. Two officers remained in the room while the man was searched.
The man was subsequently convicted on drug charges and his Fourth Amendment appeal was denied. However, the state's highest court threw the case out after the justices concluded that the police could have recovered the drugs using various less extreme methods. The justices said that the search the man was subjected to intruded on his personal privacy, bodily integrity and individual dignity. Prosecutors must now decide whether to retry or dismiss the case.
Courts take protections guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution extremely seriously, and this case reveals that evidence recovered during police searches may be deemed inadmissible even when police obtained an explicit search warrant based on sound probable cause and remained within boundaries laid down by the issuing judge. When questioning police behavior that is dubious but seemingly legitimate, experienced criminal defense attorneys may argue that police officers should adhere to the spirit as well as the letter of the law.