Reasonable suspicion is grounds for search
June 22, 2010
The Oregon Supreme Court recently ruled that a school with reasonable suspicion of drug possession had legal grounds to search a student and seize drugs. OSBA submitted an amicus brief in the case, supporting the state’s argument that reasonable suspicion should be the standard for student searches, not the higher standard of probable cause.
In the case, school officials received a tip from a student that another student was trying to sell drugs on school property and may have drugs in his possession. The assistant principal called the student into his office and a school official opened the student’s jacket, reached into his pocket and removed marijuana and other contraband. In a resulting juvenile proceeding, the student moved to exclude the marijuana from evidence, arguing that school officials did not have probable cause to search his inner pocket.
The Oregon Supreme Court determined that student searches based on reasonable suspicion comply with the Oregon Constitution. The Court concluded that while high school students have rights under the Oregon Constitution to be free from unreasonable searches, these rights must yield if school officials can point to facts that reasonably create a risk of harm to school employees or other students. Because of the unique nature of the school environment, including mandatory attendance laws and heightened obligations to keep students safe at school, school administrators may take reasonable steps, including a limited search, to respond to such threats.
This is the second of two amicus briefs OSBA filed recently that resulted in court rulings consistent with OSBA arguments. (The first involved a teacher carrying a gun in Medford schools.)