Commentary: Legal View: Drunk driver forced to undergo catheterization

By Pat Murphy

The Daily Record Newswire

Here's a civil rights case that will make every guy squirm.

Jason Miller claims that Idaho State Trooper Christopher Yount violated the Fourth Amendment by forcing him to undergo a catheterization following his arrest for DUI.

In May 2007, Trooper Yount was on patrol in Priest River when he observed Miller staggering around a gas station. The trooper commenced a traffic stop upon seeing Miller get behind the wheel of his car.

The stop proved fruitful in that Miller failed field sobriety tests and admitted to smoking marijuana. So Yount arrested Miller for DUI and took him to a local hospital for a urine test.

At the hospital, Miller adamantly refused to provide a urine sample.

But Yount wasn't about to be deterred. The trooper instructed a nurse to catheterize Miller and extract a urine sample.

Now, it is very understandable that Yount wanted to document any illegal substances in Miller's system before they dissipated. What is harder to understand is why the trooper did not simply opt for a less-intrusive blood draw. The court record provides no explanation.

Then there's the mystery surrounding Miller's failure to decide that discretion is the better part of valor and volunteer the urine sample once it was clear that the trooper was going to get it one way or the other.

Sure, a catheterization is not exactly water boarding, but I don't know of any man who wouldn't do back flips to avoid that particular procedure.

In any event, Miller surrendered his urine sample through involuntary catheterization. Thankfully, we are spared the details of the nurse's joust with Miller's private parts.

Ironically, the urine test became a side show because police later discovered evidence of methamphetamine in Miller's shirt pocket. So Miller ended up pleading guilty to a felony drug charge, with a misdemeanor DUI taking second place.

But Miller was still sore over his involuntary catheterization, so he sued Trooper Yount and the Idaho State Police under §1983, contending that the forcible taking of his urine violated the Fourth Amendment.

Miller's case landed before the Idaho Supreme Court after the trial court refused to find that the trooper was entitled to qualified immunity.

Right off the bat, the state high court had trouble with the ultimate issue of whether involuntary catheterization violates the Fourth Amendment, bemoaning the fact that there was little authority from other courts.

The court said that the leading cases on bodily intrusion from the U.S. Supreme Court -- Schmerber v. California and Winston v. Lee -- while providing a useful framework, failed to answer the ultimate question presented by Miller's lawsuit.

So the Idaho Supreme Court punted, declining to decide whether there had been a Fourth Amendment violation in this case.

Instead, in a decision handed down last week, the court fell back on the unsettled state of the law to conclude that Trooper Yount was entitled to immunity and that Miller's lawsuit should be dismissed.

"The law regarding involuntary, warrantless catheterizations where probable cause exists is too undeveloped, and the applicable legal principles too uncertain, to hold Yount personally liable for his actions in this case," the court said. (Miller v. Idaho State Patrol)

Published: Thu, May 26, 2011