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Reasonable Suspicion In School Drug Cases

Jack Ryan

In establishing reasonable suspicion to conduct the search of a student, school officials and police officers assigned to schools should provide complete details of the facts which justified their decision to search. A case from the State of Washington provides a good example of the detail which will support such a search.

State of Washington v. Huff, 2004 Wash. App. LEXIS 1141 (Ct. App. Washington, Division One 2004), involved the search of a student by a school security officer accompanied by a school resource officer. Officer Orta of the Seattle Police Department was patrolling the area around the campus to insure that students were not leaving the closed-campus. While patrolling he observed Huff and another student, both of whom appeared to be of school-age. He questioned the pair and sent them back to school. He then radioed the school security officer, Officer Crane, and informed him as to where he had observed these students and the fact that he was sending them back to school.

Crane was familiar with the area where the two students have been and knew that students used the area for drug-related activity. In addition, he was familiar with Huff. Six weeks earlier, “Crane had escorted Huff off campus for violating the school drug policy by using or possessing drugs. As he escorted Huff off campus, Huff told Crane that he had been using drugs off campus and pointed to the area northeast of the campus [the same area where Officer Orta observed Huff and the other student].” “Crane also knew that Huff had been caught off campus one other time recently.” Based upon all of these facts, Officer Crane decided to call Huff from class and search him. Upon searching Huff, School Security Officer Crane found a pill in Huff’s pocket. Officer Orta recognized the pill as “ecstasy.”

The court concluded that the search here met the requirements of a school search, namely that it be justified at its inception and be reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the interference in the first place. The court cited Officer Orta’s observations and Officer Crane’s personal knowledge of Huff and the area, coupled with a known drug problem in the school as justification for the search.

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