The Utah Court of Appeals has overturned the conviction of a man found guilty last year of stealing a $750 diamond ring and swallowing it, saying police needed a search warrant to X-ray his stomach.

Ricky Palmer, 25, was convicted in August 1989 of third-degree felony retail theft after allegedly stealing the ring May 3, 1989, from a Sears store on State Street.Police believed that Palmer swallowed the ring while being pursued by store security guards, and an X-ray of the man's stomach revealed the evidence.

But the Court of Appeals has ruled that the X-ray violated the defendant's rights against unreasonable search and seizure because police did not have a search warrant.

Court documents released recently said Palmer objected to the X-ray when officers took him to Holy Cross Hospital shortly after he was captured.

After the ring showed up on an X-ray of Palmer's stomach, he was taken to the Salt Lake County Jail and placed in an isolation cell. The ring "eventually passed through his system and was retrieved by jail personnel," the ruling said.

During the trial last year, the defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence, arguing that "the warrantless bodily intrusion violated his Fourth Amendment rights and that all evidence derived from the search should be suppressed."

The district court judge denied the motion to suppress, finding that the "presence of exigent circumstances justified the warrantless search of defendant's body," the ruling said.

However, the Court of Appeals said exigent circumstances did not exist because the state failed to show "that the procurement of a warrant would have jeopardized the safety of the police officers or the public, or that the evidence was likely to have been lost or destroyed."

"Because we find that there were no exigent circumstances, the motion to suppress the X-ray was erroneously denied," the ruling said.