MN Supreme Court finds body cavity search unconstitutional in drug case

The case comes from an incident with the Minneapolis police in 2015.
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The Minnesota Supreme Court has thrown out a drug possession case after determining a body cavity search used to obtain evidence was unconstitutional, according to an opinion released Wednesday.

The forced cavity search on Guntallwon Brown in August 2015 violated his 4th Amendment rights to dignity, personal privacy and bodily integrity, the Supreme Court ruled in a majority decision.

Minneapolis Police Department had set up a controlled drug buy from Brown using a confidential informant. When the police arrested Brown for selling crack cocaine, Brown appeared to be making attempts to hide the drugs. Police believed he could have hidden them in his rectum.

Police then obtained a warrant to search Brown’s body for the drug, first going to North Memorial Hospital. But the doctor there refused to search Brown’s rectum, concerned the warrant only allowed an external source.

The officers then took Brown to Hennepin County Medical Center, and were granted a second, more specific warrant. The doctor did remove a baggie of drugs in Brown’s rectum by strapping him to a table and administering a sedative. Two officers remained in the room, according to the opinion. 

Brown was charged with one court of fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance.

Brown’s defense argued that even with a warrant the search was unreasonable. An appeals court upheld the charges, but the Supreme Court disagreed.

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The opinion written by Justice Paul Thissen argues that Brown was capable of consent at the time of the search, but did not consent to being sedating or to the search. It also states that the police had other, less intrusive options to retrieve the baggie, including waiting for it to exit Brown’s body naturally.

"The existence of a practical option to retrieve the baggie through natural elimination diminishes the State’s interest in demanding that Brown undergo a forced anoscopy," Thissen writes.  

But Justice Anne McKeig, dissenting, notes the intrusion would have been far less severe had Brown cooperated. She also argues waiting for the baggie to exit Brown’s body on its own would not have been less intrusive because he would have had to have been closely monitored.

The court ordered Brown be given a new trial. If Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman does not take up the case, it will be dismissed, according to the Star Tribune

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