United States v. Nelson (1994) – Case Brief Summary (Federal Court)

In United States v. Nelson, 36 F.3d 758 (8th Cir. 1994), police officers obtained a warrant to stop Nelson at an airport and search his "person" and his luggage for drugs. Id. at 759.

Officers stopped Nelson in the airport, took him "to a police substation where his clothing and luggage were searched by the officers and a drug-sniffing dog," but no drugs were found. Id.

The officers then placed him under arrest, removed his pants, and attempted to perform a visual inspection of his rectum. Id.

That inspection, however,"was impossible because appellant refused to cooperate." Id. Officers then took Nelson to a hospital, "where a doctor attempted to perform a rectal exam while the officers restrained him." Id.

Results were "inconclusive" and an X-ray was then taken of Nelson's pelvic area, "which revealed that a foreign object was in fact lodged in his rectum or small intestine." Id.

An attempt was then made to administer laxatives to Nelson "through a tube from his mouth to his stomach, and then from his nose to his stomach." Id.

Neither method worked but then Nelson agreed to drink the laxatives. Id. But, before the administration of the laxatives, Nelson had expelled the object and then swallowed it. Id. A second x-ray revealed that the foreign object was then lodged in his stomach. Id.

After doctors determined that the object would not pass, Nelson agreed to an endoscopy, in which doctors successfully removed the object, which was "found to be a packet of heroin wrapped in a plastic bag." Nelson, 36 F.3d at 760.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit concluded that "the search warrant for appellant's 'person' was not sufficient to authorize a body cavity search." Id.

It stated that "the need to provide specificity in a warrant is clearly exhibited in this case where appellant was to be subjected to a body cavity search and twice asked to see the warrant authorizing the search before submitting to this invasive procedure." Id.