Monday, October 26, 2009

CAN THEY DO THAT? SCHOOL SEARCHES OF STUDENTS FOR DRUGS AND WEAPONS

Your high school student just got into the worst trouble of his life. School security searched his locker. After finding some narcotics, the principal demanded the keys to your 17-year-old son’s car and then proceeded to rip apart your trunk. That’s when the principal found a weapon: your husband’s favorite camping knife. Now your son faces expulsion from school. Worse yet, the school turned the matter over to the police, and your son is now being charged with a crime.

While you don’t condone the use of drugs and the Swiss knife was an oversight, you think the school overreacted. Anyway, doesn’t your son have any rights? And what can you do now?

While Illinois schools are bound by the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, they may have greater leeway in conducting a search than your local police. For one thing, a school official need not obtain a search warrant provided he or she has reasonable grounds for believing that the search will turn up evidence that your child has violated school rules. For another, because lockers are considered school property, the school is allowed to randomly search your child’s locker.

But this doesn’t mean that a school can get away with everything. The school cannot search your car without your permission if your child is a minor. If your child is an adult, he or she must consent to the search unless the school obtains a warrant. The school must also point to specific facts, which led officials to infer that your child had done something wrong.

If your child is being disciplined and/or prosecuted as a result of a search or seizure, there may still be hope. In Illinois, a school generally cannot suspend or expel your child without some form of hearing. Your are also entitled to a hearing in the criminal or juvenile court. An attorney can help evaluate your child’s case in order to determine the best defense strategy before the school and the criminal court. Did the school have the specific, articulated facts required to justify the search? Can the search of the car be suppressed because the school lacked the appropriate consent? Does your child have exclusive access to his locker or could someone else have slipped the drugs into it?

Whether the incident is or isn’t charged in a criminal or juvenile court, you and your child should not communicate with anyone but an attorney about the incident, whether by speaking, texting or emailing. Statements made to friends could end up as evidence against your child. Equally important, you and your child should refrain from discussing the incident on any Facebook, Myspace or similar pages. Any references to the incident should be removed.

If you have questions about your situation, feel free to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

See our related school law blog at http://northshoreschoollaw.com.