A student was arrested and charged with delinquent conduct after he was found to be in possession of a loaded firearm at school. At trial, he argued that the gun was found as the result of an illegal warrantless search and should not be admitted into evidence. His motion was denied and the student appealed to the court of appeals.
The evidence reviewed by the court of appeals indicated that another student told the school secretary that he was concerned that the student had brought a gun to school because he had seen a video of the student “shooting out of a pickup truck” and had heard a rumor that the student had brought a gun to school previously. The secretary radioed the principal, who asked a police officer assigned to the school district to accompany him to the student’s classroom. The principal told the officer that they were investigating a report that the student had a weapon. The student was removed from the classroom and the officer patted him down and asked him whether he had “anything in his possession he shouldn’t have at school here today.” The student replied “no” and the officer discovered a loaded handgun on the student’s left hip.
The court of appeals began its analysis by noting that the Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable search and seizure. Although this protection applies to students in public schools, a student’s privacy interest at school is limited by the school’s responsibility to maintain discipline and order. Therefore, when a school official searches a student in a public school, the standard is whether there was reasonable suspicion to conduct the search.
In order to determine whether the search is reasonable, the court considered whether the search was limited at its inception and reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified it in the first place. In this case, a student reported that he thought that the other student had brought a gun to school. The identity of the reporting student was known to the school secretary and principal, and both considered him to be a credible and reliable source. Therefore, the search was reasonable and lawful.