When is it Illegal to Search a Student?

          In the case of New Jersey v. T.L.O., the United States Supreme Court stated that "[u]nder ordinary circumstances, a search of a student by a school or other school official [is permitted] when there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the student has violated or is violating either the law or the rules of the school."  However, in the case of A.H. v. State of Florida, the Fifth District Court of Appeal stated that the prosecution is still "required to elicit specific and articulable facts which, when taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant the intrusion."  If the prosecution cannot present such facts, then the evidence should be suppressed.

 

          In the case of A.H., a physical education teacher named Matthew Koff was selling a uniform to a student whose initials were "A.H."  (Initials rather than names are used in appellate cases when reference is made to a minor.)  According to Koff, A.H.'s speech was slurred, and Koff could not understand A.H. so he asked him to repeat his name several times and even to spell it.  Feeling that something was not right, Koff voiced his concerns to the assistant principal who immediately took A.H. to an empty office along with a police officer.  The assistant principal asked A.H. to empty his pockets.  When A.H. produced his wallet, the assistant principal opened it and found what turned out to be marijuana.

 

         The Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled that this search was illegal and that the marijuana should therefore be suppressed because Koff had merely a "gut feeling" that something was wrong while the assistant principal and police officer had no problem understanding A.H.

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