ILNews

Court weighs individual rights, school violence

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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An Indiana Court of Appeals decision today grabs you with the first lines, setting the groundwork for an intriguing read whether you're an attorney or not.

"In this case of first impression, we balance the private rights of students and citizens against our schools' need to identify individuals on school property in this post-Columbine world," Judge Cale Bradford wrote. "More specifically, we are asked to determine whether a school police officer may conduct a pat-down search of a student on school grounds for the sole purpose of finding the student's identification card if he fails to produce it when asked to do so."

The 14-page unanimous ruling comes in D.L. v. State of Indiana, No. 49-A04-0703-JV-192, and affirms a juvenile court judgment involving an Indianapolis Public Schools incident in September 2006.

A school police officer encountered D.L. and two other students in a second-floor hallway at Arsenal Tech High School during a non-passing period, and they told her that they didn't have passes or ID cards. The officer performed a pat-down search on D.L., who'd put something down his pants, and then handcuffed him and took him to the police office where another officer conducted a search and found a clear plastic bag with 1.03 grams of marijuana.

The state filed a petition alleging D.L. to be a delinquent child based on the possession of marijuana, a Class A misdemeanor if committed by an adult. The juvenile court later denied D.L.'s motion to suppress the evidence obtained in what he described as a warrantless search, and he was ultimately committed to the Department of Corrections for 18 months. D.L. appealed.

"Balancing the student's rights against the interests of school safety, we conclude the pat-down search... does not violate the student's rights against unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution," the appellate court wrote.

In making its decision, the court relied on caselaw that involves searches conducted by public school officials, both federally and in Indiana. The court noted that in considering several cases, judges have generally found school searches to be reasonable under the circumstances and endorsed justifications offered by the investigating school officials conducting the searches.

"We believe that in this post-9/11, post-Columbine age of increasing school violence, a public school police officer's determination that she must identify the individuals with whom she is in contact similarly warrants our endorsement," the court wrote, citing a case it had decided a year ago that recognized the essential police function of being able to ask people for identification.

"We are unpersuaded that D.L.'s admission to being in violation of school rules somehow obviates the officer's need to confirm this violation, or her accompanying need to identify him via any identification card potentially on his person," the court wrote.

Chief Judge John Baker concurred, but wrote a separate opinion delving further into the court's already "thoughtful analysis" of past caselaw.

He commented on the Indiana Supreme Court case two years ago of Myers v. State, 839 N.E.2d 1154, 1160 (Ind. 2005), which in turn had cited a previous ruling from the Supreme Court of the United States in New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985) that is considered the leading case on this issue.

Chief Judge Baker wrote the school officer's actions were reasonable and crucial in determining whether the three were students and what the potential for danger might be, not only in determining whether his assertion about not having identification was true.
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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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