12/2/2011Idaho: Cars Can Be Searched at School Without Suspicion of Crime
Idaho Court of Appeals upholds warrantless search of automobile in school lot even though student committed no crime.
Officials at high schools in Idaho can search automobiles belonging to students even when there is no evidence that they have broken any laws. The state Court of Appeals ruled last week that warrantless searches without probable cause are constitutionally permitted on school grounds.
Joseph A. Voss, Jr was a student at Timberline High School and over the age of eighteen on April 8, 2009 when an assistant principal decided to rummage through his automobile. An anonymous source informed the school official that Voss had been seen driving unsafely. Voss was called to the principal's office to explain, reeking of tobacco.
Voss could legally smoke, but Boise School District Rule 3233 prohibits possession of cigarettes on school grounds. So the assistant principal entered Voss's automobile to see if it had a cigarette pack on board, but he instead found a bong and a set of brass knuckles. Voss appealed, citing a 2009 US Supreme Court decision that concluded students were protected by the Fourth Amendment, but under a reduced standard where the search is "not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction." Here, a three-judge panel read those cases in a different light.
"In examining the authority in the above cases, we hold that the search of Voss's vehicle was justified at its inception," Judge Sergio A. Gutierrez wrote for the court. "Both TLO and Redding indicate that the reason for the schoolyard search exception to the warrant and probable cause requirements is precisely for the swift enforcement of school policies that maintain the order and safety of the educational atmosphere. As such, the assistant principal could justify the search of Voss's vehicle on school grounds based solely on reasonable suspicion that Voss was in possession of tobacco in violation of school policy -- even if it would not otherwise constitute a crime."
In the New Jersey v. TLO case, the Supreme Court justified searching a fourteen-year-old girl's purse because she had been accused of violating a rule against smoking in a school restroom. The appellate court reasoned that the high court permits warrantless searches in that case, it is equally rational to investigate a violation of the tobacco rule for someone over eighteen.
"The plenary ban of tobacco on school grounds makes sense, and there is no basis to claim that the search of Voss was unreasonable owing to some slight shortcoming in such a ban -- that it also applies to adult students," Gutierrez wrote.
A copy of the decision is available in a 60k PDF at the source link below.