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Heroin Case May Be Over; Court Rules Search Illegal

April 23, 1986|JERRY HICKS | Times Staff Writer

The 4th District Court of Appeal agreed Tuesday with a heroin suspect who said that La Habra police did not have a proper search warrant to force him to regurgitate five balloons of heroin so they could use the drugs as evidence against him.

Maurice A. Jauregui, 46, will probably not go to trial on the 1984 drug charges because the five balloons of heroin were the only evidence police had produced against him.

Deputy Public Defender Richard M. Aronson, whose office represented Jauregui, said the case presented an important legal issue.

"We're not talking about just technicalities, we're talking about protecting the rights of all of us," he said. "When the state is going to force people to throw up and doesn't use proper procedures to do it, then all of us are at risk."

Legality Upheld

In the past, courts have upheld the legality of cases where suspects were forced to take medication to induce vomiting in order to produce swallowed evidence. However, the courts have done so only when a legal search warrant spelled out the procedure to be used.

La Habra police said they had reason to suspect that Jauregui had ingested heroin when they saw him swallow something outside a motel on Nov. 8, 1984, shortly after police had detained him with a warrant to search his room.

Police took Jauregui to La Habra Community Hospital and were granted a search warrant over the telephone from a judge. Then they forced the suspect to swallow syrup of ipecac, a solution which induces vomiting.

Didn't Mention Vomiting

However, the court noted that the judge had only authorized the police to search Jauregui. Prosecutors agreed that the judge did not specifically mention that the search could include induced vomiting.

"While the prosecution argues the magistrate intended to issue a warrant authorizing a body intrusion . . . the warrant failed to authorize the procedure performed, despite the (La Habra police) officer's representation to Jauregui it did," said Justice Edward J. Wallin, in the unanimous appellate court opinion.

The Orange County district attorney's office argued that the police officers acted in good faith because they obtained a second search warrant, recognizing that the first warrant which let them into Jauregui's motel room did not cover a bodily intrusion.

But the court responded that "Any nonconsensual intrusion into the sanctity of the body requires circumspect adherence to the letter of the law."

Wallin also states that there is still disagreement among medical experts whether it is more dangerous to force a suspect to vomit balloons of heroin swallowed or to let the balloons pass through the body naturally.

Deputy Dist. Atty. James J. Mulgrew could not be reached for comment. Jauregui's attorneys said the appellate ruling should end the case unless prosecutors appeal to the state Supreme Court.

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