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1st Circuit Permits Massachusetts X-ray Drug Search

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a Massachusetts district court decision permitting an x-ray search of defendant Shane Spencer under the aegis of a search warrant and dismissed his 1983 action.

Spencer had been arrested in 2005 by Worcester, Massachusetts police for operating a motor vehicle without a license. "Shortly, thereafter, one of the officers, Gary Morris, learned that a confidential informant (CI) claimed to have seen the appellant insert a package of crack cocaine into his anal cavity just prior to the arrest," according to the 1st Circuit decision.

A request for a search warrant was granted, the defendant transported to Saint Vincent Hospital, and an x-ray performed, which disclosed no hidden drugs. Defendant never consented to the search, and he was released without any drug-related charges filed against him. Defendant then filed a federal civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which was dismissed by the district court, resulting in this appeal.

The court noted that "a physical intrusion below the skin constitutes a search within the Fourth Amendment," Skinner v. Ry. Labor Execs. Assn., 489 U.S. 602 (1989). A court must consider the strength of the suspicion during the search, the potential harm to the suspect's health and dignity... and the prosecution's need for the evidence sought. In certain circumstances the court also may consider the availability of a less invasive means of conducting the search. Sanchez v. Pereira-Castillo, 590 F. 3d 31, (1st Cir. 2009).

The court also found that the diagnostic x-ray was safe and swift, carried out in a professional manner, and used to find indispensable evidence, obtained by a warrant, and "no less intrusive way" was available. Alternative counts alleging violations of Massachusetts' constitutional rights, specifically Chapter 24, Section 15, were also dismissed. See: Spencer v. Roche, 659 F.3d 142 (1st Cir. (Mass.) Oct 18, 2011) (NO. 11-1146).

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Related legal cases

Spencer v. Roche

Sanchez v. Pereira-Castillo