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Court Upholds Constitutionality Of High School Student’s Book Bag Search

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – A divided state appeals court has rejected arguments made that a Miami Northwestern Senior High School student’s constitutional rights were violated when his book bag was searched after police received an anonymous tip of a loaded gun.

On October 12, 2011, school officials found a loaded, semi-automatic handgun in the Northwestern student, identified in Thursday’s ruling as K.P., book bag after receiving an anonymous tip.

After the finding, the student received 15 days in secure juvenile detention and one year of probation.

In an appeal to the 3rd District Court of Appeal, the student argued that evidence of the gun should have been suppressed because of a violation of his Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. The argument focused heavily on the fact that an anonymous tip led to the search.

But appeals-court Judge Thomas Logue, in a 2-1 decision, wrote Thursday that the search was reasonable in protecting students in a school.

“Admittedly, the tip at issue in this case may not be sufficient to have justified a stop and frisk of K.P. for weapons on a public street (much less an outright search of his book bag) because it may not contain sufficient indicia of reliability reflecting that K.P. was actually carrying a firearm,” wrote Logue, who was joined in the majority opinion by Chief Judge Frank Shepherd. “But the circumstances supported reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing in the context of preventing the threat of gun violence in a classroom.”

Judge Linda Ann Wells said the anonymous tip was not legally sufficient to justify searching the book bag, though it was enough justification to remove the student from class and question him and examine the outside of the bag.

“Had such actions been taken and resulted in information or observations which would reasonably support a determination that K.P. either had been or was violating the law or school rules, then a search of K.P.’s backpack would have been justified from its inception,” Wells wrote. “Because none of this took place before K.P.’s backpack was searched, the warrant-less search of K.P.’s backpack was not reasonable under the circumstances and K.P.’s motion to suppress should have been granted.”

“The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.”

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