(CN) – Federal agents did not violate a pregnant woman’s rights when they searched her digestive system for smuggled drugs, the 11th Circuit ruled.
Customs agents searched Janneral Denson at the Ft. Lauderdale Airport, suspecting her of hiding drugs from Jamaica inside her body. They had been told to monitor travelers to and from Jamaica, based on past instances of drug trafficking.
The customs inspector suspected Denson, because she walked quickly without luggage and avoided eye contact. Also, drug dealers often recruit pregnant women as drug mules because they cannot be X-rayed for fear of harm to the babies.
Denson could not answer basic questions about her husband, who lives in Jamaica, and authorities found a “cheat sheet” of information about him that seemed to be written by a third party. The sheet included information about where her husband lived and how she met him.
Authorities took Denson to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where she was given a pelvic exam, an ultrasound and laxatives to test her stool for drugs. She was released after three drug-free bowel movements. She gave birth to her baby 12 days later.
Denson sued the government and hospital staff for false arrest, assault, and unlawful search and seizure. The trial court ruled for the government, citing the fact that inspectors followed protocol and had reasonable suspicion to believe Denson was smuggling drugs.
Judge Tjoflat of the Atlanta-based federal appeals court affirmed that decision.
“Based on the facts,” Tjoflat wrote, “it was eminently reasonable for (the customs inspector), especially given her experience and training, to suspect that Denson was concealing contraband.”