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. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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