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. I will be filing a lawsuit in Tippecanoe County for so many violations in a case we became involved in, including failure to contact through mail, Violation of 4th Amendment rights, Violation of Civil Rights, and so on. Even the Indiana Ombudsmen Bureau found violations and I have now received the report and they are demanding further training in Tippecanoe County. I am going to make sure they follow through!!!

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  3. I thought the purpose of the criminal justice center was to consolidate all the criminal services and get them out of downtown to clean up the place. Why in the HELL are the civil courts moving? What a burden to all the downtown law firms. Now we all get to work downtown, but then have to get in a car and COMMUTE to court? Who approved this idiocy?

  4. I drive through the neighborhood whenever I go to the City-County Building or the Federal Courthouse. The surrounding streets are all two way with only two lanes of traffic, and traffic is very slow during rush hour. I hope that enough money has been allocated to allow for improvement of the surrounding streets.

  5. I have had an ongoing custody case for 6 yrs. I should have been the sole legal custodial parent but was a victim of a vindictive ex and the system biasedly supported him. He is an alcoholic and doesn't even have a license for two yrs now after his 2nd DUI. Fast frwd 6 yrs later my kids are suffering poor nutritional health, psychological issues, failing in school, have NO MD and the GAL could care less, DCS doesn't care. The child isn't getting his ADHD med he needs and will not succeed in life living this way. NO one will HELP our family.I tried for over 6 yrs. The judge called me an idiot for not knowing how to enter evidence and the last hearing was 8 mths ago. That in itself is unjust! The kids want to be with their Mother! They are being alienated from her and fed lies by their Father! I was hit in a car accident 3 yrs ago and am declared handicapped myself. Poor poor way to treat the indigent in Indiana!

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