In re R.M. (Ind. Ct. App. November 13, 2014) centers around a backpack left in a classroom with the teacher’s permission. When the student did not return for the backpack, the teacher contacted a school resource officer (SRO), who searched the backpack. The teacher thought that the backpack contained drugs or weapons and communicated that to the SRO. Inside was a small caliber semi-automatic handgun and a magazine for the handgun, but no bullets.
The petition alleged that R.M. was a delinquent child for committing the acts Carrying a Handgun Without a License as a Class C felony and Possession of a Firearm in a School as a Class D felony, if committed by an adult.
On appeal, R.M. alleged that the search of the backpack violated his Fourth Amendment rights.
The court did not agree. “”[M]inors in school are subject to supervision and control that could not be exercised over free adults” and considering “the legislature’s codification of the custodial and protective role of Indiana public schools,” the Indiana Supreme Court has held that “students are entitled to less privacy at school than adults would enjoy in comparable situations.” Linke v. Northwest School Corporation, 763 N.E.2d 72, 979-80 (Ind. 2002).” In addition, the “United States Supreme Court has held that “a school official’s search of a student is not subject to the fourth amendment warrant requirement and does not require the same degree of suspicion that constitutes probable cause.” Berry v. State, 561 N.E.2d 832, 837 (Ind. 1990) (citing New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 340-41 (1985)).”
In determining whether a particular search of a student — or the student’s property — is reasonable, the court must determine: (1) “whether the search was justified at its inception,” and (2) “whether the search as executed was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the original interference.” Id. (citing T.L.O., 469 U.S. at 341).
The court found that the search of the backpack was reasonable because of: (1) the teacher’s belief that it may contain drugs or weapons, (2) the scope of the search was limited to merely unzipping the backpack and looking inside, and (3) had the SRO not acted, other children who attended the school may have been exposed to unnecessary risk.