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 think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.