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.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"BUT MY CHILD DIDN'T START IT": WHEN YOUR CHILD IS FACING SUSPENSION, EXPULSION OR JUVENILE COURT CRIMINAL CHARGES FOR FIGHTING

You’ve been hearing complaints from your high school student about some other kids at school. They keep harassing him, and the school doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it. While you don’t condone violence, you really can’t blame your child for not wanting to take it anymore. But now your student is facing disciplinary action: suspenion as well as possibly expulsion for fighting and/or juvenile court charges for assault or battery.

If your child is expelled, you will have to deal with finding an alternative place for them to go to school. This can be costly. An expulsion could also affect your child’s choice of college. Even a suspension can cause difficulties with later life choices. If your child gets in trouble at school a second time, the penalty might be that much more severe because of the initial incident.

In some cases, your child may be charged in juvenile court. Your child could end up with a juvenile criminal record.

What can you do? If the incident is charged in juvenile court, your child will be entitled to a hearing before a judge. At the high school level, your child cannot lose his or her right to attend school without first receiving procedural due process. In most cases, your student is entitled to a hearing, although not always before the suspension takes effect. In many districts, only the school board may expel your student, and you may have a right to a hearing at that stage as well.

An experienced attorney can help evaluate your child’s case to determine the best strategy to defend your child. Did the school follow its own procedural rules? Was your child an innocent bystander or acting in self defense? Even if your child started the fight, an attorney can help judge the strength of the evidence against them and can help challenge the severity of the penalty. Maybe your school has some alternative conflict resolution program.

If there is a juvenile court case, an attorney can evaluate how to proceed. You may wish to take the matter to hearing in hopes of getting the charges dismissed. If the evidence is extremely strong against your child, it might be advisable for the attorney to work out a plea arrangement.

Whether the incident is or isn’t charged in 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