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Minnesota Supreme Court: Even With a Warrant, Forced Anoscopy Is Unreasonable Search

by Douglas Ankney

The Supreme Court of Minnesota ruled that forcing a suspect to undergo an anoscopy to retrieve a baggie from his rectum was an unreasonable search even though police had obtained a warrant permitting the procedure.

Guntallwon Karloyea Brown was arrested after an informant made a controlled purchase of crack cocaine from Brown. A police officer observed Brown “shoving his hands down his pants and grinding his buttocks against the seat [of a chair],” possibly concealing something.

Brown was strip searched, and police observed a baggie protruding from his anus. Believing the baggie contained crack cocaine, a warrant was obtained directing hospital staff to “use any medical/physical means necessary to have Brown vomit or deficate [sic] the contents of his stomach or physically by any means necessary remove the narcotics from the anal cavity so Officers can retrieve the narcotics.”

Brown was then taken to Hennepin County Medical Center where, after being shown the warrant, Brown refused to remove the baggie.

The police then presented the warrant to Dr. Paul Nystrom. Nystrom informed Brown of four possible options: (1) Brown removes the baggie himself, (2) Brown submits to an enema to cause him to defecate, (3) Nystrom performs an anoscopy with Brown sedated, or (4) Nystrom sedates Brown, intubates him and pours a laxative through the tube into his stomach to clear his bowels.

Brown refused to answer. Nystrom left the room to give Brown time to think it over. When Nystrom returned, Brown still refused to answer.

Nystrom had hospital staff strap Brown down and sedate him to make the anoscopy “less painful, less uncomfortable.”

Nystrom placed a speculum into Brown’s rectum, examined his anal cavity, and removed the baggie with forceps described as “pinchers of some sort that has ... a five-to six-inch arm on it that opens and closes.” Though rare, the risks associated with anoscopy include bleeding, tearing, and abrasions. None were observed in this case. However, two police officers remained in the room and observed the procedure. Nystrom later testified the baggie could have been retrieved through natural elimination, i.e., a bowel movement.

Test results later showed the baggie contained 2.9 grams of cocaine. Brown moved to suppress the evidence, and the district court denied his motion. He was convicted and appealed. The court of appeals affirmed, and the Supreme Court of Minnesota granted his petition for review.

The Supreme Court observed that the Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. “The ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness.” Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 373 (2014). Searches “which are not justified in the circumstances, or which are made in an improper manner,” are not reasonable. Winston v. Lee, 470 U.S. 753 (1985).

If a search is unreasonable, the evidence obtained from the search is not admissible. State v. Rohde, 852 N.W.2d 260 (Minn. 2014). Searches that invade the body are generally “demeaning, dehumanizing, undignified, humiliating, terrifying, unpleasant, embarrassing, repulsive,” and signify “degradation and submission.” Blackburn v. Snow, 771 F.2d 556 (1st Cir. 1985). The reasonableness of surgical intrusions beneath the skin is determined by balancing three factors: (1) the extent to which the procedure may threaten the safety or health of the individual, (2) the extent of the intrusion upon the individual’s dignitary interests in personal privacy and bodily integrity, and (3) the community’s interest in fairly and accurately determining guilt or innocence. Winston.

The Court determined that factor (1) leaned slightly in favor of unreasonableness. Though the risks to Brown’s health were minimal, there was yet some risk. Factor (2) leaned heavily in favor of unreasonableness. The State compelled a search of Brown’s anal cavity, a body-part recognized by society as undoubtedly private. The search involved strapping Brown to a table; inserting an IV; sedating him without his consent; poking and prodding his anal cavity; inserting medical instruments into his anal canal risking injury; and all being done against his will and in the presence of two non-medical personnel. Factor (3) leaned in favor of reasonableness. Police had reason to believe the baggie contained crack cocaine, and it was evidence supporting the community’s interest in fairly and accurately determining Brown’s guilt.

The Court, in weighing the factors, concluded it came down to the fact that factor (2) greatly outweighed factor (3). While the State had an interest in retrieving the evidence, the extent of the intrusion to obtain the baggie was not reasonably justified, especially in light of the fact that the baggie could have been retrieved through the normal process of defecation. There were no exigent circumstances justifying the speedy removal through anoscopy.

The Court concluded that the search was unreasonable, and thus, the evidence was inadmissible. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded to the district court to vacate the judgment of conviction and ordered a new trial. See: State v. Brown, 2019 Minn. LEXIS 438 (2019). 

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