Skip to content
Name: United States v. Fowlkes
Case #: 11-50273
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 09/28/2015
Summary

Officer’s warrantless seizure of plastic baggie protruding from inmate’s rectum was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Fowlkes was arrested for drug possession and distribution. During a strip search at the jail conducted by five officers, one of the officers noticed a baggie protruding from Fowlkes’ rectum. After Fowlkes tried to push the baggie back into his rectum, the officer used a stun gun to shock him. Four officers handcuffed Fowlkes and held him down while another grabbed the protruding portion of the baggie and pulled it out. The district court denied Fowlkes’ motion to suppress the drugs found inside him. He appealed. Held: Reversed on this point and remanded. To determine whether a warrantless seizure is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, the court must evaluate the totality of the circumstances including (1) the scope of the particular intrusion, (2) the manner of its conduct, and (3) the justification for initiating it. (United States v. Cameron (9th Cir. 1976) 538 F.2d 254, 258.) The seizure here interfered with a particularly personal, private area of Fowlkes’ anatomy. The manner of the search also supports the conclusion that it was unreasonable. It was not conducted by medical personnel, contrary to jail policy. The officers did not take steps to minimize the physical trauma, such as using lubrication or ensuring the removal was conducted under sanitary conditions. They did not consult with medical personnel to assure themselves that removing the object was safe despite the fact the size, shape, and substance of the object was unknown to them. The officers also did nothing to mitigate Fowlkes’ anxiety or emotional trauma. Finally, there was no justification for seizing the bag in the chosen manner because there was no medical emergency and no risk that Fowlkes would destroy the contents while handcuffed and surrounded by officers. The seizure was unconstitutional and the evidence must be suppressed.