Body Cavity Search Ruled Reasonable Based on Confidential Informant Credibility

by | November 21, 2020

United States v. Ruffin, 2020 WL 6437976 (6th Cir. 2020)

A confidential informant (CI) told DEA agents that Julius Ruffin planned to drive to another city to purchase heroin from unknown Mexican drug traffickers. She told the agents she would accompany Ruffin. The CI described Ruffin’s vehicle and provided the license plate. The CI maintained contact with the agents by text message throughout the trip and the drug deal.

Agents watched Ruffin and the CI enter a house, followed by two Hispanic men. After the two men entered the house, the CI sent a text stating Ruffin had purchased a plastic bag of heroin and taken the bag into the bathroom. Ruffin stayed in the bathroom for about 20 minutes.

After Ruffin and the CI left the house and drove away, agents followed Ruffin until he committed a traffic infraction. Local police stopped Ruffin. After a drug detector dog gave a positive final response to the odor of controlled substances, the agents searched the car and then searched Ruffin. They found no drugs. Suspecting he had concealed the drugs inside his body during his bathroom visit, the agents obtained a warrant for a body cavity search.

The trial court ruled there may not have been probable cause, but if there was not, the good faith exception applied to save the search.

The agents took Ruffin to the hospital. Ruffin was naked and shackled to a bed. A doctor refused to search, but a nurse agreed to a finger-search of Ruffin’s rectum. The nurse felt something in Ruffin’s rectum. The nurse then inserted an instrument to visually examine the inside of Ruffin’s rectum. The nurse’s notes indicate she saw a foreign object that looked like a piece of plastic wrap. At this point, the doctor ordered an X-ray, which revealed the outline of three round objects. The nurse gave Ruffin several soap suds enemas until Ruffin released three bags of heroin and fentanyl.

Ruffin claimed there was no probable cause for the search warrant. The trial court ruled there may not have been probable cause, but if there was not, the good faith exception applied to save the search. The appellate court upheld the trial court ruling.

The court first considered the reliability of the CI. The factors supporting a finding of reliability included the corroboration of Ruffin’s vehicle description, travel plans and destination, and the race of the drug dealers meeting Ruffin, along with the agents’ observation of the CI accompanying Ruffin. The facts that Ruffin went into the bathroom with a bag of drugs and came out empty-handed after 20 minutes, coupled with the drug dog’s positive indication even when officers did not locate drugs in the car, led the appellate court to conclude there was a “fair probability” Ruffin had concealed the drugs in his body.

The court was critical of one of the DEA agents joking he would do the body cavity search, but only after taking “a couple shots.” The court described this as “an unnecessary additional affront to dignitary interests.” The court opined, “the search could have been handled better—by beginning with an X-ray and treating Ruffin respectfully.”

This blog was featured in our Xiphos newsletter, a monthly legal-focused law enforcement newsletter authored by Ken Wallentine. Subscriptions are free for public safety officers, educators and public attorneys.

KEN WALLENTINE is the Chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over three decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.

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