Crime & Law Enforcement Issues & Death Penalty/questioning of minors
Mr. Hauck, this took place at a middle school in South Carolina. At my child's school this past year a threatening note was found by a student in the restroom concerning a bomb. The school was evacuated and searched, no bomb. The student who discovered the note was detained and questioned. Not sure for how long and I understand no link b/w the student and note was found.
My questions now, I can only presume the student was questioned by both LEOs and school officials. What rights did (does) that student have? Could he/she have remained silent or asked for a parent or legal guardian perhaps? Is the school or the police required to contact the parents or legal guardians in a case such as this?
The reasoning for my inquiry, if my children are put in a situation such as this I want them protected legally.
Thank you for your time.
You raise important questions here. Over the years schools have created their own unique legal protections. Instead of giving you a too long of a confusing legal discourse, understand that your child's civil rights and U.S. Constitutional protection rests upon the Fourth Amendment, which states: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
As such there are four seminal or important U.S. Supreme Court cases which address search and seizure involving interrogation and searches based upon suspicion or are suspicionless. The cases are:
Suspicion Based Cases of Students are:
1. New Jersey vs. T.L.O. (1985). This was a criminal case involving a high school student who was accused of smoking cigarettes in the school bathroom with a friend and had her purse searched and evidence seized relating to marijuana use and sales. The State of NJ asserted that students do not enjoy protection of privacy with regard to their personal belongings while they are on school grounds. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled "schoolchildren may find it necessary to carry with them a variety of legitimate, non-contraband items, and there is no
reason to conclude that they have necessarily waived all rights to privacy in such items merely
by bringing them onto school grounds." In short, students retain their Fourth Amendment protection when they step onto school grounds. That decision was bolstered by the previous decisions holding that students retain their protections at school through the 1969 case of
Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent Community School District, and the 1975 case of Goss vs. Lopez.
2. Safford Unified School District No.1 vs. Redding (2008). This was a case where a student was strip searched in order to ascertain whether or not she was concealing "painkilling" pills on her body. The Court ordered that the strip search was illegal but gave qualified immunity to school officials due to a divided view on how TLO (above) applied to strip searches.
Random Suspicionless Searches of Students:
1. Vernonia School District 47J vs. Acton (1995). The case of TLO (above) left open the question of whether individualized suspicion would always be necessary to satisfy the Fourth
Amendment. Vernonia, however, presented the Court with that issue. The Vernonia case involved random drug testing by the school in order to combat rampant illegal drug use by student athletes. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the random drug policy of testing student athletes did not violate the Fourth Amendment under the "Special Needs" doctrine. That doctrine states that certain searches can pass Constitutional muster even if not based on individualized suspicion if used for a special need other than law enforcement. In this case it was the concern of health and welfare for school athletes who were considered role models and were tasked with representing the school in their athletic capacity.
2. Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 v. Earls (2002). This was a case in which the Court upheld the Constitutionality of mandatory drug testing by public schools of students participating in extracurricular activities. The U.S. Supreme Court held that students in extracurricular activities had a diminished expectation of privacy, and that the policy furthered an important interest of the school in preventing drug use among students. This rationale was based on the precedent case, Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton (above), which did allow drug testing for student-athletes.
What this means is that there are "gray" areas in the law with regard to your child being questioned or interrogated on school grounds. As a student he or she still retains their Constitutional protections under the Fourth Amendment (explained above) and the Fifth Amendment which protects a person against self-incrimination. The cases above illustrate how a student's rights can be diminished under certain circumstances, but they are still in full force and effect. My suggestion would be for your children to comply with all legitimate requests for cooperation in regard to an investigation but to issue no statements until a parent (you) or attorney has been notified and is present. Please consult with a qualified attorney in your area for more specific instructions on how your child should respond to this type of situation as every public school district in each state is run differently.