Media Contact

Janna Farley,

September 16, 2020

U.S. District Judge Roberto Lange has approved a settlement in a case that says South Dakota law enforcement’s practice of using forced catheterizations to obtain urine samples from suspects is unconstitutional.

The ACLU of South Dakota and attorney Jim Leach of Rapid City filed the Fourth Amendment case on behalf of several individuals against the city of Wagner and the Wagner Police Department, the city of Pierre and the Pierre Police Department, the city of Sisseton and the Sisseton Police Department, and the South Dakota Highway Patrol along with individually named law enforcement officers.

In the case, the plaintiffs said they were held down and subjected to involuntary catheterization after police obtained search warrants for urine samples to detect the presence of drugs, a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches. None of the search warrants obtained by police specifically authorized forced catheterization as a means of obtaining evidence.

“The Fourth Amendment guarantees people the right to be free from unreasonable police searches,” Leach said. “There is nothing reasonable about forcibly catheterizing someone. The Constitution’s purpose is to protect people from police intrusions exactly like this. Now the practice of police using forced catheterization to gather evidence will stop.”

Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants – the cities of Pierre, Sisseton and Wagner and former South Dakota Highway Patrol Officer Adam Woxland – agreed to collectively pay a total of $440,000 in damages, legal costs and attorney’s fees.

In his April ruling, Lange said he found that the mere suspicion of low-level drug crimes did not justify this invasive and painful procedure.

“The plaintiffs were not smuggling drugs or weapons in their urethras and bladders, and the catheterizations would only provide evidence of drug ingestion rather than the more serious crime of drug trafficking. … Ingesting drugs is one of the least serious drug crimes a person can commit,” Lange wrote.

South Dakota is the only state that imposes a felony for ingestion of a controlled substance. These counterproductive drug policies have swept thousands of nonviolent drug offenders into the state’s criminal legal system and cost taxpayers millions of dollars. This settlement is another reminder of why criminal justice reform is needed.

“South Dakota’s tough-on-crime approach to drug users struggling with addiction, as evidenced with the use of forced catheterization to secure evidence, doesn’t work,” said Libby Skarin, ACLU of South Dakota campaigns director. “Though drug use is undoubtedly a serious issue, we can’t incarcerate our way out of addiction. Our lawmakers should see the outcome in this case and finally eliminate ingestion as a felony offense. It’s well past time for the state to prioritize people and not prisons and to help reform our state’s criminal legal system.”

A copy of the court’s order of judgement is below.  

About the ACLU of South Dakota

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights. The ACLU of South Dakota is part of a three-state chapter that also includes North Dakota and Wyoming. The team in South Dakota is supported by staff in those states.

The ACLU believes freedoms of press, speech, assembly, and religion, and the rights to due process, equal protection and privacy, are fundamental to a free people.  In addition, the ACLU seeks to advance constitutional protections for groups traditionally denied their rights, including people of color, women, and the LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit communities. The ACLU of South Dakota carries out its work through selective litigation, lobbying at the state and local level, and through public education and awareness of what the Bill of Rights means for the people of South Dakota.