MADISON, Wis. – Police officers who forced a drug suspect to drink a laxative in hopes of recovering a swallowed bag of heroin were within their rights, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
Reversing an appeals court decision, the high court said police had a clear expectation that the laxative would help reveal evidence of a crime.
The laxative also may have reduced any danger to Tomas Payano-Roman if the bag had ruptured in his body, the decision said.
Payano-Roman's attorney, Tim Provis, called the decision a defeat for civil rights and said he was considering a federal appeal.
"The average person walking the streets of Milwaukee -- they'd say, 'Gee, cops shouldn't be able to do that.' Now the Supreme Court says go right ahead," Provis said.
In 2002, a Milwaukee County sheriff's deputy who was on a drug stakeout approached Payano-Roman and saw him swallow what looked like a plastic bag, according to court documents.
After Payano-Roman was arrested, medical workers decided he should take a laxative, and an officer gave him six doses. The next day, officers retrieved the plastic bag, and Payano-Roman was convicted of heroin possession, the records say.
A state appeals court ruled the laxative amounted to an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment, but the high court disagreed.
In a dissent, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson noted that six hours passed between the arrest and administration of the laxative and questioned why officers didn't get a search warrant.