Suspects Can’t Be Forced To Undergo Evidence-Yielding Surgery
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Virginia prosecutors, believing that Rudolph Lee Jr. was shot by a Richmond store owner whom he is accused of trying to rob, wanted to have the bullet in Lee’s chest surgically removed to obtain possible evidence.
But the Supreme Court said Wednesday that forcing such surgery, even though it is likely to yield evidence of a crime, would violate Lee’s constitutional right of privacy.
In three other criminal justice decisions, the court:
-Used a case from South Carolina to relax its rules about how long police officers may detain people suspected of a crime when they do not have enough reason to arrest them.
-Ruled in a Florida case that police may not force a criminal suspect to accompany them to a police station for fingerprinting without a court’s permission.
-Decided states may continue to use deadly drugs to execute condemned murderers.
In the surgery case, Virginia prosecutors allege that Lee was shot June 18, 1982, by store owner Ralph Watkinson during an attempted robbery.
Police found Lee eight blocks from Watkinson’s store. He was suffering from a gunshot wound to the chest and told the officers he had been shot by two individuals who attempted to rob him.
After an investigation, police decided that Lee was lying. He was charged with attempted robbery and with shooting and wounding Watkinson. Lee is awaiting prosecution.
The decision by the court Wednesday said the request by prosecutors to have the bullet removed from Lee’s chest was an ″unreasonable″ intrusion of the suspect’s privacy.
The court said Virginia prosecutors failed to show a compelling need for the bullet since they reportedly have an eyewitness to the crime.
If prosecutors decide to make Lee stand trial, they will not be able to obtain the bullet as possible evidence against the suspect.
Lee currently is in prison on other charges.
In the South Carolina case, the justices reinstated the marijuana-smuggling convictions of two men detained by police for 20 minutes before they were arrested.
The high court never has said precisely how long police may detain someone while investigating a suspected crime, and it did not do so Wednesday.
But writing for the court, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger said courts should consider whether police ″diligently pursued a means of investigation that was likely to confirm or dispell their suspicions quickly.″
He said police may detain criminal suspects without arresting them while making such investigations.
In the third case, the court threw out the 1981 burglary and sexual battery conviction of Joe Hayes, sentenced to 99 years in prison in connection with a series of crimes in Punta Gorda, Fla.
The court said Hayes unlawfully was forced to accompany police to a police station for fingerprinting.
But at the same time, the court said police officers sometimes may be justified in fingerprinting criminal suspects when stopping them for questioning - even though the officers do not have enough reason for making an arrest.
The court also overturned a 1983 decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington that ordered the Food and Drug Administration to ban lethal injections for condemned prisoners until the FDA determined the injections kill quickly and painlessly.