Friday, August 03, 2012

Supreme Court overturns search of Bellevue student's backpack was illegal

Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer
August 2,
2012 · 5:18 PM

The State Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a 2009 search of
a student's backpack that yielded an airsoft gun and led to the conviction of a
student was not legal, because the school officer was acting in a law
enforcement role, requiring him to first obtain a search warrant.

According to a 6-3 court margin, Officer Michael Fry's
actions did not fall under an exception that allows school officials to search
students without a warrant, therefore the evidence should have been suppressed
at trial.

"At the time of the search, Fry was seeking to obtain
evidence for criminal prosecution, not evidence for informal school
discipline," Judge Susan Owens wrote in the majority opinion.

"Further, the search was not to maintain order because (the student) was
being removed from school regardless."

Court documents say that the student was arrested in 2009 in
the bathroom of Robinswood High School, a now closed alternative school, when
the school resource officer witnessed the student handling marijuana. The
officer was contracted from the Bellevue Police Department. He placed the
student under arrest, and while waiting for backup became suspicious of the
contents of the student's backpack. He then searched it and founded a replica
Beretta airsoft gun.

The student and his legal team did not dispute what was
found, but in the manner it was pursued. After losing the case at three
different levels, the Supreme Court was the first to agree with the student.
This is because previous cases indicate the officer was in
the right, the three dissenting judges wrote. The dissenting judges argued that
the school resource officer remains a school official whether he is acting in a
law enforcement capacity or not because he is working to maintain order within
the school for an infraction committed on its ground.

Furthermore, the judges argued, the ruling will put restrict
school resources officers and put more pressure on faculty to police students.
"Schools will now be dissuaded from using school
resource officers to detect and intercept violations of school rules or the
law," Judge Debra Stevens wrote in the dissenting opinion. "Instead,
teachers and other school administrators who have reasonable suspicion but lack
probable cause, must conduct such searches themselves. The constitution does
not demand such foolhardiness, nor is it necessarily conducive to respect for
student privacy."

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