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April 10, 2005

Filmed Search Cause For Tossed Conviction

I'm a big fan of the Bill of Rights. That includes applying those protections it embodies to those charged with and/or convicted of crimes. But I think this interpretation goes a bit far. Tell me if you agree.
The Indiana Court of Appeals has thrown out a man's cocaine conviction because his strip-search was filmed by a camera crew for the Oxygen Network.

In its ruling, the appeals court found that the filming of Andra Thompson's strip-search was "unprofessional and unreasonable."

"Where should the media line be drawn?" Judge Edward Najam wrote in the ruling issued Thursday. "We think the line should be drawn here. ... We will not sanction such conduct, which demeans the suspect and degrades the entire legal process."

Thompson, 26, of Indianapolis, was convicted of cocaine possession and sentenced to six years in prison in May 2004 after his arrest by Indianapolis police.

When he showed up during a June 2003 sting at a motel to sell cocaine, officers took him into a bathroom and searched him, finding cocaine stuffed between his buttocks.

The search was filmed, with police permission, for an Oxygen Network show called "Women and the Badge." One of the arresting officers was a woman.

At one point, the camera zoomed in on Thompson's naked posterior for several seconds while he was bent over in handcuffs with his pants pulled down.

Now here are my thoughts on the matter.

1) This sort of search would be standard procedure for a drug bust of this kind. Probable cause existed to conduct the search. The filming does not undermine those facts.

2) If anything, the filming of the search PROVES that the search was properly conducted and the evidence was properly obtained.

3) If Thompson's due process rights were violated by the filming (which I would dispute), does the exclusion of the properly seized evidence constitute a proper remedy? I think not. And if the evidence is validly seized in the course of a valid search, on what basis is the conviction overturned?

4) Assuming the filming was improper, overturning the conviction is not the proper remedy. The proper course of action would be a civil suit, seeking damages for invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress.

This is a bad decision, one which imposes an entirely new and (at the time of the arrest) completely unknowable standard on police conduct. Worse yet, it opens the door to a whole new area for criminals to challenge their convictions -- not based upon their guilt or innocence, but instead upon the basis that they were embarrassed by the arresting officers.





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