FindLaw Blotter - The FindLaw Crime and Criminals Blog

Can Police Forcibly Collect Urine in Drug Cases?

Law enforcement is allowed to collect evidence of a crime, but within certain limits. The Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures sets these limits generally, but it's not very specific. For instance, if a suspect in a domestic dispute changes moods and gets fidgety, do police officers have a right to take him to the hospital, strap him down, and forcibly catheterize him in order to obtain a urine sample?

Forced catheterization may be rare in drug cases, and it may be legal.

Reasonable Search and Seizure

The Argus Leader has the horrifying tale of one South Dakota man who never thought the police would follow through on their threat:

A mesh bag blurred Dirk Sparks' vision. He lay hooded and handcuffed as four police officers pinned him to a hospital exam table. Through the patterned light, he saw a fifth officer filming the procedure. His pants were loosened and pulled below his waist. Then, pain. A nurse at Avera St. Mary's Hospital in Pierre inserted a pencil-sized tube into Sparks' urethra to drain his bladder. Moments later, an officer with the Pierre Police Department held a cup of Sparks' urine that soon would be sent off for drug testing.

Officers had arrested Sparks following a domestic disturbance, and based on his demeanor during and after his arrest, obtained a search warrant to obtain blood or urine. It's unclear whether Sixth Circuit Judge John Brown, who signed off on the warrant, knew the sample would be forcibly collected via a catheter.

"It was degrading," Sparks told the Argus Leader. "I was angry. I felt like my civil rights were being violated."

Exceptional Circumstances

But does the forced urine sample violate the constitution? While police obtained a warrant in Sparks' case, Barry Friedman, New York University School of Law professor and director of the Policing Project, told the Argus Leader that there have been cases nationwide where police have had the procedure done without a warrant. He added catheters for forcibly collecting urine samples should only be used in extraordinary situations: "There's no way law enforcement should be doing this without telling a judge what they are going to do. The Supreme Court has made it clear that bodily invasions are serious. Catheterization is painful and humiliating."

Attorney General Marty Jackley of the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigations, agreed, saying officers would only pursue forced urine samples in "exceptional" circumstances. "That [request] needs to be made directly to a judge," Jackley told the paper, "and it needs to be specific [that] we may be using this method."

Was Sparks' case exceptional? South Dakota is one of the few states that criminalize drug ingestion, and Sparks was charged with a felony after testing positive. So perhaps officers feel more pressure to obtain incriminating evidence of the crime. And the doctor who oversaw Sparks' procedure? Peter Maningas is a reserve officer for the Pierre Police Department, according to the Argus Leader, and member of the department's SWAT team.

Related Resources: