Tuesday, May 13, 2014
After breathalyzer and blood test, man suspected of drunk driving subjected to forced catheterization
In Indiana, 23-year-old William Clark alleges that local police violated his civil rights by subjecting him to forced catheterization after he failed to provide a urine sample on his own. He had been arrested on suspicion of driving drunk. As this local article reports:
According to his lawsuit, Clark submitted to a blood test at the Dyer hospital that showed his blood alcohol was below the legal limit. It states [Officer Matthew] Djukic, however, became impatient with Clark's inability [sic] to provide a urine sample and made an effort to forcibly get the sample. The suit claims Djukic physically restrained Clark while hospital personnel inserted a catheter to extract the fluid.
Clark says the forced catheterization was "painful, degrading and humiliating." Among other things, he alleges that it amounted to excessive force, and he’s seeking more than $10 million in total damages.
Excessive force claims usually are analyzed under the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens’ “persons, houses, papers, and effects” from “unreasonable searches and seizures” by law enforcement. A reasonable search or seizure generally is one supported by a warrant issued by a magistrate, although certain circumstances may justify waiving the requirement. Such is the case when the search is likely to produce evidence of criminality, and when the warrant requirement is impractical.
In Schmerberg v. California, the Supreme Court held that warrantless blood testing for alcohol by law enforcement squares with the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches. Because the body works to eliminate alcohol as soon as drinking stops, the application of the warrant requirement to drunk driving cases would prevent discovery of needed evidence. Blood testing also is “a highly effective” means of determining one’s level of intoxication.
But a prick of the finger is less invasive than catheterization. Blood testing usually requires only the exposure of one’s finger to momentary discomfort. Forced catheterization requires exposing one’s genitals to medical staff so that a tube may be inserted into the urethra, allowing for the collection of urine directly from the bladder. The procedure could last a minute or more. Because some people experience severe pain, local anesthetic is occasionally used. The propriety of the warrantless procedure is also specious given Grant’s submission to both a breathalyzer and a blood test—less invasive, but effective, alternatives to urinalysis.
As one federal judged argued, unlike blood testing, “the Fourth Amendment’s protection of human dignity and privacy might require a warrant at the very least before government officials could compel a citizen to undergo a catheterization.” Officer Djukic didn't have one, and the existence of exigent circumstances justifying forced catheterization is doubtful.
Still, even assuming the validity of Grant’s excessive force claim, Officer Djukic may nevertheless be immune from legal action if a reasonable officer wouldn’t have known the forced catheterization violated Grant’s rights.
(h/t Debra Cassens Weiss at the ABA Journal Blog)