Anal Cavity Search Doesn't Violate 4th Amendment, 1st Cir. Rules

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on October 21, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Anal cavity searches carried out via x-ray are constitutional, according to the 1st Circuit. Even if the images depict a suspect's stomach and other organs.

Police in Worcester, Mass. arrested Shane Spencer for driving without a license. A reliable informant then claimed that he had seen Spencer insert a package of crack cocaine into his anal cavity. But Spencer refused to cooperate with a visual inspection of his anus, so police obtained a warrant.

The local hospital conducted a physical search of Spencer's anal cavity, and then ordered a KUB x-ray. A KUB x-ray is the only method of viewing the entire anal cavity, but it also captures images of the stomach and kidneys.

Shane Spencer sued, claiming that the anal cavity search was an unreasonable intrusion into his privacy under the 4th Amendment. He also argued that the x-ray exceeded the scope of the warrant.

While it’s true that individuals are entitled to bodily privacy, an under-the-skin search may nevertheless be constitutional. To determine the validity of such a search, the court will consider the following:

  • Extent of probable cause
  • Potential harm to suspect’s health and dignity
  • Prosecutor’s need for evidence

In the case of Spencer’s anal cavity search, police had reliable information; the KUB x-ray was safe and painless; and there was no other way to verify the officers’ suspicion.

As such, the 1st Circuit upheld the x-ray as constitutional.

It also found that an image of Spencer’s stomach did not exceed the scope of the warrant. The KUB x-ray is the only way to view the entire anal cavity. An image of the stomach was necessarily included in the image. Its depiction was merely incidental to a legal anal cavity search.

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard